With a day to go in the Ontario election, it is looking nearly certain that change is about to take place in Ontario. The governing Liberals have continued to slide in the polls and the Premier conceded over the weekend that she will not be Premier following this election. In a campaign where the desire for change among voters has been so intense as to cause the first NDP surge in support in 30 years, it is almost impossible at this point that the Liberals can form government again.
This means Ontario is about to have a PC or NDP government for the first time in nearly a generation. The NDP have been the surprise party in this campaign, surging steadily in the polls for the last two weeks and often tying and sometimes surpassing the PC party in the polls at roughly 38% support. Even with a tie in voter support, there is a higher probability that the PCs will form government due to the efficiency of their vote and distribution of their support. Simply put, the PCs enjoy a broader range of support in all ridings across the province while the NDP support tends to be more concentrated in urban centres. The PC support is also historically more efficient, and reliable, meaning that PC supporters statistically have a higher probability of actually casting a ballot on June 7th than NDP supporters currently do.
However, we do also know that this campaign has been unlike any other in over a generation and it is also very likely that the NDP popularity will cause unusual vote splits in traditional Conservative and Liberal ridings that could lead to a minority government for either the PC or NDP.
What Happens on June 8th?
Both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP are currently putting in place transition teams that can kick into gear on June 8th and help guide the successful party to government. Regardless of who wins, and whether it is a minority or a majority, it will take weeks for all the new MPPs to be sworn in and a Cabinet to be named. In that time, the current Cabinet technically stays in place (in case of emergency), but the bureaucracy is effectively in caretaker mode. No new decisions will be made, and spending will be kept to an absolute necessity.
Typically, transitions take place over 10-14 days following Election Day. After the Cabinet is in place, each Minister will begin intensive briefings with their departments to get up to speed on files, and the new Premier will issue mandate letters to each Minister, likely sometime in August or early September.
Over the summer, the Premier’s office will be working full speed to staff the government. Most governments (particularly brand-new ones), tend to centralize staffing through the Leader’s Office. As a result, staffing can often be very slow and last several months. It is highly likely that all offices will not be fully staffed until later this fall; however, key staff will need to be in place prior to the Legislature resuming.
The Premier and his/her team will also be working over the summer to draft a Speech from the Throne, which is necessary in order to recall the Legislature this fall. The Legislature is regularly scheduled to resume on September 10, 2018; however, the new government is free to delay that date. It is very likely that the Legislature might not reconvene until after Thanksgiving.
The Difference Between and PC and NDP Government
Changes in government often lead to changes in policies or priorities. When a new government comes to power, it is common for projects started by the previous government to be amended, altered or cancelled. The PC and NDP are almost completely opposite one another on the political spectrum. Each party has very different priorities and views on how government should be managed, and Ontario would look very different under each scenario. For example, a PC government would be pro-business and open to partnering with the private sector, while an NDP would be pro-labour and supportive of public financing models.
Right now, we have the party platforms and commitments made throughout the campaign to guide us on what the new government will focus. For the PCs, acting on hydro, both in terms of rates and executive compensation, as well as starting down the path determining efficiencies, will be priorities for the early days of government. We can also expect a much smaller Cabinet and number of Ministries in a Doug Ford Government. There are 28 Ministers in the current Liberal government, while Ford has profiled 13 candidates as potential Ministers.
For the NDP, they have campaigned heavily on healthcare, and will move to establish pharmacare and dental care programs as well as set up a standalone Ministry of Mental Health. This would also allow one of their strongest potential Cabinet Ministers to be showcased – France Gélinas. Hydro rates and transit, particularly the Yonge Relief Line and the Hamilton LRT would also be likely early priorities.
Majority vs. Minority Government
With the NDP and PCs tied in terms of public support, it is very unclear if either would win with enough seats to form a majority government. Under a majority, the winning party has a clear mandate and enough votes to ensure their platform is implemented. It creates a stable environment for four years and a higher level of predictability for stakeholders.
A minority government is far more volatile and leads to much less certainty for everyone. In the event of a PC minority win, it highly unlikely that the NDP or the Liberals would entertain forming a coalition government with Doug Ford, meaning that every vote in the legislature would need to be negotiated for support. This would cause severe legislative delays and would significantly hamper the PCs from implementing their platform.
In the event of a minority NDP win, there is a possibility that the NDP and Liberals would negotiate a coalition agreement that would ensure they hold the balance of power in the Legislature. While slightly more secure than negotiating on a vote-by-vote basis, it is still not stable. Coalitions are fragile by nature and the agreements are easily broken. While the Liberals and NDP share many similarities, there are also deep ideological differences between the two parties that could cause problems down the road.
Minority governments are far less stable and almost never last a full four years. However, given that all parties are coming out of a historic election with record spending, no party will be in a financial position to force another election within the next twelve months. This means that while unpleasant, it is more probable that a minority government – with any party – would last at least a year.
Timeline and Next Steps
The new government will take several weeks or months to get organized, making political outreach difficult until likely early fall. However, during this period the department officials become incredibly important. Any new government will rely heavily on officials in all Ministries to help them with the transition, brief them on the key issues and priorities of their portfolio, and to walk them through the mechanics of government. In either an NDP or PC government, most (if not all) Ministers will be in Cabinet for the first time, meaning they have a steep learning curve ahead.
Engagement with Ministry officials over the summer will be key to gaining insight into the direction the new government is taking and to help influence the content of the Speech from the Throne later in the fall. Most new Ministers and staff will not be taking stakeholder meetings right away, meaning the only way to get a message through to government will be through the civil service. Officials will also be providing essential data and advice to the new government on priorities for the first mandate and will be looking to stakeholders for feedback and ideas.
Though outreach with Ministers and the Premier’s Office is difficult in the early days, it is very different for local MPPs. Reaching out to new and returning MPPs in key ridings before the end of June to congratulate them can assist in establishing and building relationships.