The legislative calendar in Ontario starts slowly in 2023, but that in no way means the year will be quiet. Ontario’s Legislature is on a winter break until February 21, having largely passed the Ford government’s fall agenda before rising in December.
Doug Ford’s PC government starts 2023 in a strong political position. Holding 83 seats in the Legislature, the PCs still lead the polls by a wide margin, despite a controversial fall. In their first months after re-election, the Ontario government clashed with education unions, leading to the brief invocation of the notwithstanding clause to block strike action by educational assistants. The government also took dramatic action to kickstart housing construction, passing a series of bills to compel municipalities to allow greater development and hand greater powers to mayors at the expense of councils. These moves will have far-reaching implications: the City of Toronto – the epicentre of Ontario’s housing shortage – quickly responded by passing its own Housing Action Plan, while other GTA municipalities attacked the bill. At the same time, allegations that developers may have received advance notice of the decision to open up development in pockets of the Greenbelt will continue to plague the Ford government this year.
Overall, the Ontario government’s year will likely be dominated by perennial concerns over the economy and healthcare. The November Fiscal and Economic Statement showed that Ontario’s fiscal position has actually improved in recent months, with a surplus recorded for the 2021-22 fiscal year, and lower deficits forecast. Ontario will need that breathing room to handle the anticipated 2023 economic slowdown. At the same time, and like most provinces, Ontario’s healthcare system is showing significant signs of strain. Ongoing staff shortages and long wait times for care have pushed the province to innovate, including the recent announcement that for-profit clinics will take publicly-funded patients to alleviate the burden on the public system. Doug Ford will also be at the forefront of interprovincial discussions on increased healthcare funding, calls that will only grow louder as healthcare systems stretch even further in the early months of 2023.
This agenda will keep the political spotlight on Doug Ford, and off of his opponents. Fresh off of their landslide defeat, the Ontario NDP and Ontario Liberals continue to struggle. On February 4, the NDP will hold a vote to confirm Marit Stiles as leader of the Ontario NDP and therefore Leader of the Opposition in the Legislature. The Davenport MPP will take the job by acclamation after she was the only candidate to apply for it. Ontario’s Liberals, meanwhile, lack both a permanent leader and a timeline to find one. The party recently released a harsh critique of its 2022 election campaign, which ended in the defeat of former leader Steven Del Duca, and the second consecutive loss of official party status. Several federal and provincial Liberals have expressed interest in running, including MPs Michael Coteau, Yasir Naqvi and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, along with MPPs Ted Hsu and Stephanie Bowman.
The coming political year promises to be significant. PAA will be following it closely, keeping our clients on top of the most critical developments.