On May 26th, their chances for reelection rapidly dwindling, Ontario Liberals publicly released their platform – less than two weeks from the election, and the day before the final (and most crucial) leaders’ debate. This leaves the Ontario PCs the only major party without an election platform.
The 64-page document shares its title, “Plan for Care and Opportunity”, with the recent 2018 budget; unsurprisingly, it mirrors that budget very closely. It incorporates details and additional announcements made in the weeks following the tabling of the budget, as well as a handful of new commitments made during the election campaign. By waiting until well into the writ period to drop their plan, the Liberals were able to include nuggets that respond to issues of the day – like their commitment, in the wake of controversies involving Ontario PC nomination contests, to expand Elections Ontario’s investigative powers.
At a higher level, the document aims to position the Liberals as responsible alternatives to both the PCs and NDP: its primary emphasis on “care” implying the PCs would cut services (aligned with the campaign’s slogan, “Care over cuts”); a secondary emphasis on “opportunity” suggesting the NDP would be bad for economic growth.
With that being said, there are no headline-grabbing surprises in the Liberal platform; its key commitments, including free preschool, dental and pharmacare, and increased investments in front-line health care, are direct carry-overs from the 2018 budget. The platform hasn’t generated headlines; rather, it is intended as a document the Premier can point to when going toe-to-toe with the platform less PC leader Doug Ford at the final debate, with a grab bag of new goodies for some small but important voter groups.
Setting the Scene
Vital to Liberal reelection efforts since 2007 has been reminding Ontarians, many of whom tend not think of their provincial government outside the context of scandal, of the many broadly popular initiatives their government has implemented. As such, a good portion of the Liberal platform is given over to touting popular programs such as subsidized university and college tuition, full-day kindergarten, OHIP+, increased minimum wage, rent controls, reduced hydro rates, and shuttered coal-fired generating stations. The platform also reminds voters of Ontario’s strong economic performance in recent years, saying the province is “growing faster than the world’s strongest economic powers” and noting that the government balanced the budget and produced a surplus for 2017-18.
The platform also gives space to direct attacks on the PCs and NDP. More space is given to the Conservatives, which the Liberals claim would cut 40,000 jobs, including nurses and teachers, restrict a woman’s right “to make decisions about her pregnancy,” and scrap a number of popular programs to allow for tax cuts for big business. Recent gaffes by the Ford campaign are referenced, including a secretly-made (and quickly walked back) commitment to open the Greenbelt to development.
The NDP, on the other hand, is painted as economically irresponsible and fiscally incompetent, noting a math error in the NDP platform that would have a $1.4 billion negative impact on its costing. Liberals say the NDP’s approach “leads to taxes going up, growth grinding to a half and unemployment rising.”
Key commitments largely echo the budget and include:
- Free preschool child care to children aged two-and-a-half to kindergarten, with 100,000 new licensed child care spaces over five years
- Increased hospital funding by $822 million in 2018-19
- OHIP+ (free prescription drugs for children and youth) extended to seniors
- Reimbursing up to 80 per cent of drug and dental costs, to a maximum of $400 for singles, $600 for couples, and $50 per child
- $2.1 billion increased investment in mental health and addictions
- Additional $650 million in home care over three years, which will include 2.8 million more hours of personal support
- 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next decade, with increased daily care to a provincial average of four hours per resident per day by 2022
- Providing seniors up to $750 a year through the Seniors Healthy Home Program
- Increasing minimum wage to $15 on January 1, 2019
- $230 billion in infrastructure investments over 14 years, starting in 2014-15
- Improvements to retirement security
- Commitments to fight climate change
There are a number of health-related commitments that were not included in the budget, although many have been subsequently announced. These include:
- Creating a capacity planning table to develop multi-year funding plans for hospitals
- Developing a health workforce planning strategy, giving health providers a seat at the table
- Maintain nursing staffing levels and add 3,500 more nurses in 2018, including 2,500 in hospitals, with a priority on Registered Nurses
- Increased access to care in pharmacies, including vaccinations and chronic disease management
- $80 million over four years to expand mental health care for indigenous children and youth at risk
- Expanding access to free psychotherapy for up to 350,000 more people (the budget committed to 160,000)
- Increasing funding for community-based providers of adult mental health and addictions care by three per cent
- Working with community partners to develop health equity indicators and local plans to decrease disparities and increase culturally-appropriate care
- Doubling the provincial network of Youth Wellness Hubs
- Greater access to publicly-funded smoking cessation programs
- Provide immediate access to OHIP-insured home and palliative care for patients moving to or away from Ontario to be with family or caregivers
- Several new commitments around women’s health, including:
- Prioritizing care standards for women’s health, including early pregnancy loss
- Prioritizing women’s health in access-to-specialists strategy
- Developing a post-partum care strategy
- Providing a welcome package for every new baby outlining supports available to families and a starter pack of necessities
One new commitment would impact regulatory bodies: a renewed Liberal government would task the Fairness Commissioner with identifying ways that self-regulated professions can better assign fair value to credentials and work experience outside Ontario, while empowering the Commissioner to act as an appeal body where employers fail to follow a profession’s rules regarding experience and credentials.
Some other new, non-health commitments include:
- Creating a toolkit and one-window access to support faith groups and service clubs looking to build affordable housing on their land
- Removing secrecy in hiring practices with respect to gender and rates of pay
- Striking a task force to consider how to expand on the federal government’s new second parent leave policy
- Investing an additional $206 million over 10 years in northern and rural infrastructure
- Creating an independent gasoline price watchdog to ensure fairness in prices
- Investing $2.3 billion in green infrastructure projects
- Growing the Greenbelt
- Investing $20 million over three years to launch a Climate Change Resiliency Organization to help communities, business and government make climate-informed decisions
- Introducing legislation to strengthen Elections Ontario’s investigative powers, including oversight of nomination meetings
- Permanent annual funding to widen the TransCanada to four lanes from Manitoba to Quebec borders
- Revising regulations to enable small-scale intensification by allowing residential homeowners to build multi-unit projects on their land
- Proposing a new province-wide strategy to reduce gun violence
- Improving diverse representation on juries
- Beginning consultation on a new Poverty Reduction Strategy in the first 100 days
- Updating school curricula and student assessment tools
- $3 million to refurbish musical instruments for school music classes
- Reviewing the Arthur Wishart Act, which protects franchise owners
- Removing bureaucratic barriers to innovative auto insurance products, like usage-based insurance
- Reviewing and improving the French Language Services Act in the first 100 days
- Creating an online driver’s license letting Ontarians access services online that a physical driver’s license gives access to in person
- Online ServiceOntario appointment booking, webcam appointments, real-time wait time information, and automatic driver’s license renewal
- Mobile units bringing ServiceOntario to underserved areas
- Establishing a government-wide service performance dashboard
- 24/7 Office of Customer Service to help connect Ontarians to services, and a Quick Response Commitment to ensure questions are answered quickly
- Creating a Citizens’ Digital Privacy and Consent Charter
While some of the platform’s previously-announced new commitments – like the additional investment in northern infrastructure, widened TransCanada Highway, gender-based hiring and pay transparency, and promise to hire more nurses – received provincial or local coverage at the time, the platform itself has received scant attention. Instead, the Premier’s commitment that the Liberals would introduce legislation to require all surpluses go to paying down debt, made at the platform release but not actually included in the document, has been the focus of coverage. Andrea Horwath accused the Liberals of mud-slinging; the PCs haven’t responded, focusing instead on Ford’s same-day promise to bring back buck-a-beer.