Wynne’s Election Budget

Today the Premier’s Minister of Finance, Hon. Charles Sousa rose to deliver the 5th Budget of the Wynne administration (and the fourth of her four year majority). This was likewise the fifth Budget for Minister Sousa, who has steadfastly held the Finance post in Wynne’s cabinet since she was elected leader in 2013. Given that this was the last Budget before the next general election in Ontario and that media has been making much out of her low 12% approval ratings, it is no surprise that this was one of the more ‘voter friendly’ budgets of her tenure.

Main Highlights

The elements of the budget that are getting the most attention include:

  • A balanced budget – for the first time since 2008, the Budget is balanced. Ontario credits the economy (which grew at 2.7 per cent in 2016) and their own fiscal management efforts for fulfillment of this very public commitment;
  • Universal Pharmacare – government’s new “OHIP + Children and Youth Pharmacare” program will provide free medication for everyone 24 and under;
  • Child care – a commitment to provide child care fee subsidies for 100,000 children (24,000 in 2017/18);
  • Infrastructure – an increased infrastructure investment that brings the total to $190 billion over 13 years;
  • Healthcare – $11.5 billion over 3 years, with public hospitals receiving a minimum 2.0 per cent increase in funding in 2017/18.

The Re-Election Campaign

Essentially Budget 2017 is Wynne’s re-election document. It makes an effort to appeal to both economically disadvantaged families and middle-class families through its various commitments.

Media grabbing announcements such as the basic income pilot, and new rent control measures suggest that the re-election strategy for the Ontario Liberals will focus on solidifying support in urban centres like Toronto. In doing so, it can be assumed that collecting the NDP vote remains her preferred path to victory. As a reminder, this was essentially how Wynne was able to achieve a majority in 2014.

However, there is likely enough in this Budget to also appeal to middle class families that are traditionally associated with the coveted “905” region. Fulfillment of the promise to balance the budget by 2017/18, the evidence of no new taxes, the new subsidy for child care, and notable enhancements to public healthcare, all appeal to an electoral segment that could be ‘up-for-grabs’ given recent polling.

The question as to whether Budget 2017 will propel the Premier onto a trajectory that could see her win re-election remains to be seen. Most pundits believe climbing from a 12% approval rating represents an insurmountable challenge. That said, most also acknowledge that provincial elections in Ontario are seldom decided before the writ is dropped. Regardless, with today’s budget we have been given an indication on how she believes she can reverse her fortunes. 

Opposition Reaction

The Leader of the Official Opposition, Patrick Brown, forecasted his party’s response yesterday with “Chef Sousa” bobble heads handed out to media, claiming the Liberals have “cooked the books” to get it to balance. After the budget release, he warned Ontarians that this is not a balanced budget because they are running an operational deficit worth more than $5 billion. Brown felt the Government didn’t properly address the root of Ontario’s hydro and housing crisis, make cap-and-trade revenue neutral or bring in a moratorium on school closures – five budget asks the PCs put forward.

The Leader of the NDP, Andrea Horwath, did her part to ‘scoop’ the announcement on pharmacare by coming out just days ahead of the Budget with her own promise for a more expansive program. Messaging from the NDP on today’s budget largely focusses on how Premier Wynne is trying to “out-progress” the NDP while claiming that these commitments do nothing to address the damage of the previous 14 years of Ontario Liberal administrations.

In each of their responses, clues can be extracted as to how they plan to position themselves against the government in the coming general election. Not surprisingly, the theme of “change” was re-enforced throughout their communications.

For Clients and Stakeholders

The following general points should be considered by clients and organizations looking to advocate for their interests at the Ontario government over the coming months:

  • Proposals that include ‘quick wins’ for government will receive heightened interest over the coming months;
  • Projects affecting key battleground ridings in Hamilton, the “905,” and traditionally NDP ridings in Sudbury and urban centres will be met with heightened interest;
  • Grassroots advocacy will take on more importance as politicians begin to look locally for issues affecting their re-election campaigns;
  • The PC Party and the NDP Party should be engaged more actively in the lead up to 2018 in the event one of those two parties form government;
  • Helping each political party (including the Ontario Liberals) craft their election platforms in the run-up to 2018 should be part of each organization’s advocacy plans;
  • With more money, and a renewed willingness to spend by this administration, stakeholders shouldn’t necessarily shy away from budget asks, but should still couch funding asks in terms of offsetting other public costs;
  • As party leaders look for support from larger groups of voters, stakeholders should look more to aligning with other interest groups to help ensure consideration of their asks from each party (Party leaders are also more likely to make deals in this election climate).

About S&A

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