Chairman's Desk

Ontario’s troubles are Doug Ford’s election spoils. If he wins, the honeymoon will be short

Even though Ontario’s 43rd general election is now just four days away, the results seem to be a foregone conclusion. For all intents and purposes, every sign indicates that Doug Ford and his incumbent Progressive Conservatives will be returning to Queen’s Park to govern Canada’s most populous province for another four years.

Why? Because Ford’s message has, once again, resonated with voters.

For a series of reasons, the plans Steven Del Duca and Andrea Horwath have put forth to address the issues top-of-mind for voters have simply not been convincing. Rather, a plurality of Ontarians appear to remain convinced that the PCs are best positioned to address the pocketbook issues they care most about.

With the horse race question seemingly answered, others remain. Will Horwath keep her job as leader of the official Opposition — or of the Ontario NDP, for that matter? Will the Liberal leader win his own Vaughan-Woodbridge riding?

On the other hand, Ford faces a different set of questions and challenges. Should he sail to victory as anticipated, PC politicians, pundits and staffers will rightfully celebrate another electoral breakthrough.

That said, their honeymoon will be short as the reality of continuing to govern an intricate and complicated province sets in.

Ontario faces a host of challenging issues, and the new premier does not have the tools to deal with them all. In fact, when you look at the issue set, you might well conclude winning the election means winning a booby prize.

First off, Ontarians are facing a severe affordability crunch. As I’ve previously written in this space, this has been the “affordability crisis” campaign.

The extent and impact of this crisis cannot be overstated. As Canada’s inflation rate skyrocketed to 6.8 per cent in April — a 31-year high — the prices of everyday essentials, like gasoline and food, ate into the finances of every Canadian family. Food prices alone have risen nearly 10 per cent over the past year.

Given the provincial government’s limited control over monetary policy, a PC government faces an uphill battle when combating the price of everyday essentials without resorting to costly subsidies or tax breaks — political levers the provincial treasury can no longer easily stomach.

Meanwhile, housing affordability continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate, pushing first-time home buyers and families further behind. The average price of a home in Ontario, inflation-adjusted, has risen 44 per cent since 2018, reaching a record $871,688.

The core of the issue is that demand for housing across Ontario continues to outpace supply. While the PCs have smartly positioned themselves as the pro-construction and development option, they will need to actually deliver.

The new Ford government simply must fulfil their election promise to build 1.5 million new homes. After all, in the last decade alone, Ontario’s population grew by over 1,600,000 people.

And then there is our dismal financial standing. Fifteen years of Liberal overspending, COVID-19 pandemic subsides delivered at previously unimagined levels, a war in Ukraine, a looming global recession, and worldwide supply chain issues all conspire to make a bad situation even worse.

As Ontario’s debt rises to a projected eye-popping $468.4 billion by 2024-25, delivering a plan for fiscal balance will be no easy task.

Many of the Ford government’s political missteps in the early days of its first mandate were attributed to the pursuit of a balanced budget. Resuming that path this time around will be undoubtedly contentious once again. It will require a careful trade off between the public’s appetite for structural change, and the financial reality on the ground.

To complicate this equation, a renewed PC government will have to contend with a serious backlog of urgent hospital procedures and another round of negotiations with public sector workers, including teachers.

Turns out the fabulist Aesop may well have been right when he said “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.”

Clarification — May 30, 2022: Ontario has the largest population of all provinces and territories in Canada. A previous version of this article said it was simply the largest. As well, it was clarified that Ontario’s debt, not its deficit, is projected to rise to $468.4 billion by 2024-25.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on May 29, 2022.

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