The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In what can best be described as an uneventful, sleepy election, Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party rode their oft-promised Highway 413 to a wild finish, culminating in a second majority mandate and the resignation of two party leaders. As of 10:50pm EST, the seat distribution is 83 PC, 29 NDP, 8 Liberal, 1 Green, 1 Independent.
While the result of a PC government has been all but known for the last several weeks, it wasn’t always apparent it would be this way. There was a time when, thanks to public discontent over Premier Ford’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Official Opposition and NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal leader Steven Del Duca were chomping at the bit to hold Premier Ford to account in this election, both confident in their ability to prevent a Ford victory or to at least hold the PCs to a minority government.
Instead, the Liberals and NDP diverted to attacking each other in a bitter fight for second place just weeks – even days – into this campaign, where neither seemed able to frame the ballot box question that resonated most with voters, let alone put forward the compelling vision required to turn this into a ‘change’ election where voters would turn the page on four years of Ford.
In the end, Ford’s maturity as a premier – earned through his handling of the pandemic – and his team’s flawlessly executed strategy of campaigning under the radar proved to be a masterclass in winning as the frontrunner. No cheap gimmick, such as the Liberals’ chicken suit stunt, could knock Ford off his control of the narrative. Ford’s plain-spoken style, likeability and support amongst voters for his handling of the economy made him the clear choice for voters on election day.
While he’ll garner less coverage after finishing fourth in the results with just one elected MPP, it should be noted here that the ‘best of the rest’ in this election was Green leader Mike Schreiner, who boosted his party’s aspirations considerably following an impressive debate performance, where he was the only leader to succeed in knocking Premier Ford off message.
With early results pointing to a voter turnout of below 50% – down significantly from 2018 figures – it is clear that Horwath and Del Duca were unable to penetrate a fatigue that set in among voters who, for two years, watched daily as their leaders updated them on the most recent COVID numbers or unveiled a seemingly unending barrage of stringent measures designed to keep us safe and healthy.
This was not the election of great debate on substantive issues, though parties did release a slew of election promises to try and appeal to voters at the ballot box. The NDP released a full platform in April and unveiled costing details in mid-May, while both the Liberals and the Greens released fully costed platforms in early May, and the upstart Ontario Party listed policy commitments on its website. The Progressive Conservatives were the only major party without a platform, opting instead to match the Liberals and NDP step for step in responding to emerging issues and making significant funding commitments in the areas of health care, education and transit. The PCs also pledged to bring the commitments they made in their 2022 Budget back to the table if re-elected.
The problem for the NDP and the Liberals, as reflected in the seat count, is that voters were not convinced either Del Duca or Horwath possessed the vision to make life even just a little easier for them. Following two unending years of the pandemic and, more recently, global supply chain issues, record levels of inflation and an affordability crisis, Premier Ford’s ability to communicate a future of economic stability was exactly what Ontarians wanted to hear.
A New Test for the Opposition Leaders
NDP leader Andrea Horwath shocked many supporters on Thursday night when she announced her intention to resign as leader of the Ontario NDP. Horwath opened the door to stepping aside, refusing to commit to staying on as NDP leader regardless of whether the NDP were to form the Official Opposition. Despite the NDP’s success in holding onto their status Ontario’s Official Opposition, the party’s seat count was reduced at the hands of the PCs in important regions. The ball is now firmly in the NDP Party’s hands as they’ll be expected to act swiftly to identify candidates and organize a leadership race, ensuring that their next leader has sufficient time to establish their brand and vision to Ontarians prior to the next scheduled election in 2026.
For the Ontario Liberal Party, the pain and suffering of the last four years appear to be going nowhere. Failing to gain official party status and being able to enjoy the additional funds and resources that come with that status is a significant blow to the party, despite keeping pace with the NDP in province-wide polls. Worse yet, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was forced to resign after failing to capture his own seat of Vaughan-Woodbridge. The Liberals are now facing their second leadership contest in just two election cycles and will be on the back foot once again in pitching to centre-left voters that they are the government in waiting after the NDP have firmly established their credentials as Ontario’s Official Opposition.
What “Getting it Done” Means for Businesses
We can expect the new Ford government to swear in an updated cabinet in the coming weeks, being sure to showcase newly appointed ministers and old faces ahead of Canada Day festivities and fundraising on the barbecue circuit. This new cabinet will reflect and reward those who helped Premier Ford stickhandle the pandemic, both behind the scenes with his Caucus and the general public.
Before Queen’s Park sittings resume on September 12, where the first order of business will be to elect a new Speaker, parliamentary assistants and opposition critics will be named and offices will be staffed up. The government will then present its Speech from the Throne spelling out its agenda for the next four years, before getting back to important work such as passing a budget and moving forward on low-hanging-fruit commitments from the election.
With a second majority mandate, the government will recommit itself to attracting new investment and high-paying jobs to Ontario by creating a stable and predictable investment environment. A majority government means four years of business certainty in the province, especially for businesses bidding on major infrastructure projects in the transit, health and manufacturing sectors.
In health care, Ford committed to investing $40 billion over the next 10 years to increase capacity across the system by building new hospitals and renewing existing facilities, which will include work on some 50 major hospital projects.
On affordability, that includes helping seniors with medical expenses, imposing a six-month cut to gas and fuel taxes, and ending vehicle licence plate renewal fees.
On transportation and infrastructure, the PCs will invest $25.1 billion over the next 10 years to build roadway infrastructure, including the contentious Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, widening Highway 402 east of Pickering and undertaking the QEW Garden City Skyway rehabilitation project. The government has also promised to invest $61.6 billion over 10 years for public transit, including working on the rapid transit Ontario Line and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and advancing planning work on a Sheppard Subway Extension.
On the environment and manufacturing, Ford will expand beyond his previous $14-billion commitment to make Ontario the home of manufacturing for electric vehicles and their required batteries. The PCs also previously committed to investing $91 million to make EV chargers more accessible in public spaces across the province by adding them at highway rest stops and hubs like carpool lots and provincial and municipal parks.
And finally, on housing, that includes implementing an increase the non-resident speculation tax to 20 per cent, setting a deadline for municipalities to approve zoning changes and spending $19 million to curb the backlog at the Ontario Land Tribunal.
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