LET’S ROLL-OUT – As always, the government side of the Legislature erupted in thunderous applause as Finance Minister Charles Sousa tabled the 2017-18 provincial Budget yesterday, cheering on cue at each key point. Now, the reception becomes much less predictable – and probably much less enthusiastic – as Sousa, along with virtually every one of those Liberal MPPs, starts selling the Budget to voters. Sousa is setting out on his annual speaking tour, reiterating Budget highlights to key stakeholder groups, with particular focus on the financial community both in Ontario and internationally, while other MPPs replicate his presentation at the local level. With the Liberals languishing in the polls, this Budget is a critical first step in trying to win back electoral hearts. Of course, there’s still one more Budget before next year’s general election, but if the LIBs can’t get traction in 2017 chances next spring will be too late.
INCOME AND GET IT – Premier Kathleen Wynne got a jump-start on her party’s re-election effort earlier this week, with a major speech in Hamilton. By the sounds of it, Wynne wants to keep tracking left – leaving Sousa to cover off the economic, balanced-budget bona fides with the money set. Oh, Wynne talked about eliminating the deficit, but mostly as part of a bigger thrust about Ontario now having the means to improve security and opportunities in a precarious job environment. Central to this theme was the unveiling of an initiative first announced in last year’s Budget, a basic income pilot project. The three-year experiment will see people with low incomes in Hamilton, Lindsay and Thunder Bay receive payments “no matter what,” with no strings attached, unlike current social assistance rules that see some personal income clawed back. “It’s not an extravagant sum by any means,” Wynne said. “For a single person, we are talking about just under $17,000 a year, but even that amount may make a real difference to someone who is striving to reach for a better life.”
LEFT LIFT – If Wynne is indeed focusing on the left, the traditional occupiers of that space aren’t about to cede it without a fight. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took a giant stride forward this week, announcing a blockbuster policy that just might put her party back in the game after years of also-ran status. Horwath promised to implement a universal pharmacare program, which would start by covering about 125 commonly prescribed drugs under the provincial OHIP plan. (Later in the week, the Liberals launched a pharmacare initiative of their own in the Budget. Theirs covers all drugs in the formulary, but only for Ontarians under age 25. While that was a major Budget thrust, in some ways Horwath had already stolen their thunder.) “Nobody should be forced to skip their medications or actually cut their pills in half because they can’t afford their prescriptions,” Horwath proclaimed, to a rapturous ovation from about a thousand delegates at the NDP’s annual convention. That response was noteworthy in itself – another sign that the party may be poised to awaken from its slumber. In a mandatory leadership vote, Horwath got an impressive 89% approval, and the whole convention reportedly had a much more upbeat atmosphere than in recent years. Some of that enthusiasm was generated by the glossy, 40-page vision document launched at the conference, titled “It’s About Change. It’s About You.” While not a platform per se, it does outline arguably more policy ideas than the NDP offered in the entire 2014 election. Among them are points aimed at appeasing the party’s socialist base, including a pledge to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and to make it easier for workers to unionize. When confronted about how much this would all cost the province, Horwath was cagey, neither promoting nor rejecting the possibility of higher taxes. She was also non-committal – but not afraid – about going into the red again, telling reporters, “When necessary a deficit, but not necessarily a deficit.”
THEY THE NORTH – Northern Ontario has largely been a two-party race for decades – the Tories haven’t been able to muster much support above North Bay – but the Liberals and NDP are facing another challenger doggedly refusing to go away. Unlike most “fringe” parties (a designation the Northern Ontario Party will wear until and unless they can seriously contend for a seat) the NOP is behaving like the real deal. Last weekend two riding associations were created, and candidates chosen in Algoma-Manitoulin and Timiskaming-Cochrane. And now the NOP is releasing its platform, a central plank of which could have some appeal to voters – especially those who feel their views go unheeded around the provincial capital in Toronto. The NOP vows to have no party Whip, with their MPPs mandated to vote on “how the majority of their constituents wish him/her to vote” – based on “a standard polling method that we commit to using prior to all votes in the provincial legislature.”
Housing Minister Chris Ballard introduced Bill 124, the Rental Fairness Act, to strengthen protections for tenants, including expanding rent control to all private rental units.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa introduced Bill 127, the Stronger, Healthier Ontario Act (Budget Measures), to implement the 2017-18 provincial Budget.
FOR THE RECORD
“We are entering a new and very different era. From technology to Trump, it is a time of greater uncertainty and change. I believe that government has a responsibility to respond. To step up. To protect the wages and the well-being of our people by continuing to be bold, and active, and inventive.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne, in a major speech in Hamilton, offering what figures to be the basis of the Liberal re-election message.
“Supply management is a non-negotiable item. From an Ontario perspective, we’re not going to cede one inch. We’re prepared to take on President Trump on any given day, when it comes to defending the dairy sector.”
Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal, pushing back at U.S. President Donald Trump‘s threat to fight Canadian taxes on dairy imports.
“I’m well aware of the complexities and competing interests and feel confident I can fight for a good deal for Ontario.”
Jim Peterson, the former federal cabinet minister – and brother of ex-Premier David Peterson – appointed as Ontario’s chief negotiator in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute.
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