Ontarians may find themselves in a similar position to that of a child needing a little bit of something different from each of their parents as they head to a provincial election. This past weekend, our daughter had an idea of what she wanted to achieve. She also knew that the best results would come from the participation of both parents in the activities she had in mind. For instance, the selection of a graduation dress had mom as the selector and change room assistant and dad as the secondary advisor (or safety net in case things got too frilly for her). Later dad would be the skate fitter and Zamboni, while mom provided a safety net for well, safety, and got the hot chocolate going. If the current polling holds true, Ontarians might be saying that there is no one single party that can achieve everything they want.
Whichever poll you want to cite that gives you a few points for whatever party you support blindly, faithfully, strategically, temporarily, or otherwise, the one constant across all of them is that none of them are carrying a majority, not in percentages, nor in seats. The province seems closer to each party holding a third of support, with a current edge to the incumbent Conservatives. If that is the case, who would support a minority government between the NDP or Liberals? Maybe neither and maybe in the best interest of Ontarians they shouldn’t.
In January 2022, Abacus Data polled over 1,200 Ontarians on what the top issues facing the province might be. The top five included:
1. The COVID19 pandemic
2. The rising cost of living
3. The health care system
4. Housing affordability
5. Climate Change & The Environment
What Ontarians might be saying through the polling is that given the current global challenges, there is no single party in Ontario that can or should govern this province. Arguably, the current administration hasn’t helped any of those top five issues and if the pattern holds true, as we take a closer look, it is unlikely that they will.
THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC
As the Premier of Ontario emoted frustration, declaring COVID19 over in February when he said, “I’m done with it”, it appears that Ontario is again heading towards an encouraging pandemic outlook and not because Premier Ford said so, but because the few statistics the province still collects provide some insights into that pattern. After appearing to lose control over testing and communication, Ontario no longer conducts regular PCR testing or provides stats and communications for schools in what potentially became a save-face rebranding exercise of “we need to learn to live with it.” All while conveniently shifting the labelling to endemic. While that placated a base that was busy protesting mandates, 60% of Ontarians disagreed, making the pandemic the number one issue on their minds.
Does Ontario need more lockdowns? No. Ontarians could however benefit from a balanced plan that gives citizens the information and tools they need to at a minimum help them make better decisions, protecting its most vulnerable, and uses data to help drive the decision-making process, especially during health and economic uncertainty.
THE RISING COST OF LIVING
There is no doubt about the negative economic impact the pandemic has had and continues to have on businesses. Ontario has seen the opening and closing of the economy in waves throughout the pandemic that had little warning, questionable timing, and disastrous results. In retrospect, although many lived it in real-time, the timing of provincial lockdown announcements were out of sync with what was happening globally. The tug-of-war between keeping the doors open and stopping the virus spread was on full display as leadership potentially failed both. Interestingly, economic growth, a Conservative platform promise cornerstone, didn’t crack the top five, but the cost of living did.
The cost of living has skyrocketed in early 2022 with inflation reaching 5.1%, the highest it has been since 1991. Families now grapple with more expensive groceries, travel, housing, and utilities. The surge in fuel costs alone has been taxing when you consider Ontarians could be facing an annual hit of $6,760 in fuel costs (based on an average $2/Litre at 65 litres weekly). Not even the failed 10 cent reduction in fuel cost promised by Premier Ford, which has been deferred to an exclusive fault of the federal government and the carbon tax, can offer enough relief at this point.
There are of course small incentives rolling out under the current administration like the removal of license sticker fees with retro active refunds that can put up to $240 back into the pockets of Ontarians (the equivalent of two gas fills, I suppose), but at what long-term cost remains unknown. Online sources project the revenue loss to be around $1 billion and while some citizens are happy about the refund, it remains unclear where that revenue will be found again. Some political pundits point to future cuts in education or health care.
THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM
It makes sense that healthcare rounds out the top three issues for citizens and it is intricately linked to the pandemic response and outcomes. During the pandemic, healthcare in Ontario was bent, but not broken and that is likely because of the doctors and nurses who continued to patch it on the go. That said, nurses have been leaving the profession or moving away as failed efforts to lobby against Bill 124, essentially a wage-cap, as well as deteriorating working conditions during the pandemic have left them frustrated. CBC News also reported on February 16, 2022, that Ontario is facing a surgery backlog that was reaching one million cases.
In a CTV post from Allison Jones, On February 1, 2019, the now lame-duck Deputy Premier and Health Minister, Christine Elliot indicated that the “Ontario government's transformation of the health-care system will not include two-tier care, private hospitals or making patients pay for more services out of pocket.” The idea of two-tier health has been circling the Conservative fold at least as far back as the Ernie Eves era in 2002 and seems to always creep up during fiscal uncertainty, real or manufactured.
Ontario did see the sale of medical tests during the pandemic through private means, making them available to those who could afford them, but not everyone, while citing personal choice as a requirement. There were also indicators back in January 2021 about offloading hospital backlogs to “independent health facilities." How that is accessed, how much it costs, and other details remain unclear to date.
What is clear is that Ontarians have health care as one of the top three issues during a time when the economy, cost of living, and affordable housing are all pushing back hard.
In May 2019, Minister Steve Clark published “More Homes, More Choice: Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan” with one of the messages being, “Ontario needs more housing, and we need it now. It’s time for our government to take action.” Almost two years later, in November 2021, the provincial government announced the creation of a Housing Affordability Task Force. On February 8, 2022 the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, noted that “the majority of the task force recommendations focus on increasing the supply of housing and making it easier and faster for developers to get municipal approvals for development.” So, almost three years after the Minister saying Ontario needs more housing, a task force came out and said, Ontario needs more housing.
While the planning of plans continues, according to a report published by WOWA on February 17, 2022, the average cost of homes across Ontario increased by 25.6% in the last year to $998, 629. Amoung affordability, one of the challenges of building more homes is containing urban sprawl and avoiding negative impact on valuable farmlands.
As the housing crisis continues, the Premier focused on announcing that he would build a new highway in Southern Ontario that the Green party says would “pave over 2,000 acres of farmland” as it ran from Milton through Vaughan, saving what the Liberal party estimated a total of 30 seconds for commuters. That was one highway idea amoung others that leaves a lot of questions about timing, cost, and future planning, especially when it comes to environmental considerations.
CLIMATE CHANGE & THE ENVIRONMENT
If the pandemic had any positive impact, it was proving how much work can be achieved remotely, while having a positive impact on mental health, work-life balance, and the environment. In an article I wrote in December 2021, “Return to Office, A Prehistoric Flashback”, I referenced an OECD report that cited “the environmental pressures that are mostly linked to energy use observed a sharp decline in 2020 of 7-8%.” That decline was due to the massive global reduction in fossil fuel consumption, and for a brief period we proved that we could make a positive impact on our environment. Ontario building more highways, putting more cars on the road, and reducing farmlands doesn’t seem to fit the environmental or other lessons learned from the pandemic.
John P. Lotter wrote in the book, Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions, “Tradition dies a hard death. Culture changes with as much difficulty in penguin colonies as in human colonies. But with this colony, culture did change.” Ontario’s iceberg is melting and in need of a culture change.
A coalition government is one where two or more political parties cooperate to form a temporary alliance to form the government. In the recent insurrection on Ottawa, Canada’s capital, occupiers allegedly wanted to form a coalition with the Conservatives, NDP, and Bloc parties to become the new Government of Canada (which technically could have never happened under our democratic system because amoung other reasons, the occupiers are not an existing party).
The last legal coalition-like government in Ontario was in 1985, formed by the Liberals and NDP, although with some variation as the latter did not have members appointed to Cabinet. Together they ousted a minority Conservative government after a non-confidence vote.
A minority government that either ignores the issues or drives in a direction based primarily on party platform, may not be in the best current interest of Ontarians. Besides, if slightly over one-third of the province is represented by that party, whatever their platform, does that really represent the will of the people across Ontario? While the number of seats would be more than any one of the other parties, it truly would not represent most Ontarians. Given the current social, economic, health, and environmental challenges in Ontario, a Liberal-NDP coalition government might be a viable option that not only represents more Ontarians but would hold greater accountability to one another while addressing their top five concerns. Perhaps it might even repair some of the divisiveness incurred as they collaborate to deliver modern solutions using the knowledge, skills, and technology that makes Ontario not only “Yours to Discover,” but truly where “Good Things Grow.”
- Abacus Data | Ontario PCs lead by 9 over Liberals as 2022 begins and election looms
- Ontario is facing a backlog of more than 1 million surgeries and a group of doctors has an idea to fix it | CBC News
- Ontario health minister says no 'two-tier' health care planned for province | CTV News
- Doug Ford’s Government Wants to Privatize Parts of the Health Care System to Reduce COVID-19 Surgical Backlog (pressprogress.ca)
- Housing affordability for whom? How supply-side solutions fall short in addressing Ontario’s housing crisis (acto.ca)
- More Homes, More Choice: Ontario’s Housing Supply Action Plan
- Ontario Housing Market: Feb. 17th, 2022, Update | Interactive Map - WOWA.ca
- Proposed Highway 413 sparks intense debate at Queen's Park - CityNews Toronto