Ontario’s election: sizing up the policies
As Ontarians turn their eyes toward better weather and the pending provincial election in June, political parties will attempt to win the hearts and minds of the electorate through their platforms. At their best, platforms provide an outline of the plans, policies and values that each party will use to govern during their time in office. Since the Federal Red Book in 1993, the Provincial Conservative Common Sense Revolution in 1995 and the Choose Change Plan from the McGuinty Liberals in 2003, we in Ontario have been well served by the fact that all parties have forced themselves to bring forward properly costed, thoughtful and coherent platforms. Regardless of one’s political bent, recent history would indicate that Ontario requires the incoming government to articulate what they would do if they were handed the keys to the car of the province.
With this in mind, we at the ICP are trying to add value to the public discussion by running a series of blogs that look at the policy areas that we believe will increase the competitiveness and prosperity of the province. This will not be an exercise wherein we evaluate, grade or rank the platform commitments. Rather, the ICP will clearly articulate the policies we think are required in key areas to increase economic growth and competitiveness in Ontario. No matter who wins the provincial election in June, we believe these policy areas are key to the future of the province, and we hope our policy suggestions are considered going forward.
Over the next two weeks we will use social media to get feedback from our audience on which of these policy areas are of greatest interest to them. We will then focus on three of those areas with a deeper dive into policy suggestions, following up on the other areas in due course over the year ahead. Our goal is to inform and elevate the nature of the public debate and the public’s engagement with the issues in the months ahead.
Key Policy Areas:
- Get moving – Increasingly, how we move goods and people across this province is becoming an issue. Longer commuting times decrease the province’s productivity and increase the cost of doing business. The “war” between cars, bikes and pedestrians is becoming more heated and more tragic. The governance and funding of our transit systems in major metropolitan areas is out of date and is no longer working. What can be done to move this issue forward in a way that provides maximum benefit to the economy?
- Childcare – No single file would do more to increase the short and long term productivity of Ontario than increasing the availability and affordability of child care in Ontario. It would maximize the potential of parents who want to return to, or increase their participation in, the workforce. It would increase the contribution of those currently working in the child care sector. And it would increase the educational outcomes and economic potential of the youngest Ontarians.
- “I was told there would be no math” – We at the ICP have been saying this for years – while we should be incredibly proud of our world class public education system and our performance on the EQAO test, Ontario’s math scores are a problem. More must be done to address issues with the curriculum, the expertise of teachers and the outcomes for students.
- Tax agenda for growth – Over the last 15 years, the centrist tax agenda for growth called for an elimination of capital gains tax, a reduction in corporate and personal income tax and the harmonization of the sales tax. Thought leaders from Jack Mintz to Roger Martin championed various parts of this agenda. The absence of tax policy reform from the current public discourse is a shortcoming. What should the growth tax agenda look like? How will we deal with issues of equity, social mobility and pricing “externalities”?
- Health Care – While efforts to address the health needs of seniors and drug costs for Ontarians under 25 are laudable, the ICP is increasingly worried about the deleterious impact of mental health on the province’s competitiveness and prosperity. What can and will be done to address the mental health challenges of the current work force and what can and will be done to stem the mounting tide of mental health challenges being faced by our youth on campus and in schools?
- Environment vs/and Energy – Clearly one of the main hot spots on the Ontario political landscape is the cost of energy and electricity and the need to put a cost on carbon. How can we reduce or cap the cost of keeping the lights on in our homes and businesses? If we do that, what cost do we associate with the carbon produced as a result? And if we don’t put a cost on carbon, what can we do to bring forward a reasonable and effective climate change plan?
- The Future is Now – The absence of a clear and consistent data policy in Canada and in Ontario is increasingly becoming a liability. Ontario is failing to capture the data necessary to make informed policy decisions across a variety of files. The absence of interplay between various forms of social and economic data leaves us short of the best information. The failure to create proper governance and policies around the value (and who captures that value) leave experiments like the Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto straining for solid groud. Many decisions will need to be made about data collection, privacy and the role of data to our future prosperity.
- City Engine – The large cities across the province are increasingly asked to take a butter knife to a gun fight. They are asked to deliver world class public services, transit, culture, public spaces and job creation on a stagnant or declining tax base. If we believe that cities are the economic engine for the next 25 years, what fuel and tools do they require to bring economic excellent and high quality public goods to their citizens?
- Life Long Learning – Following the ICP’s look at Ontario’s existing training programs we believe that deeper look at how Ontario trains and retrains its workforce will be a key in determining our future growth and prosperity. What is the public sector’s responsibility and what can the private sector be reasonably expected to do? How can we make sure that Ontario’s workforce is resilient and can handle the inevitable shocks that will be caused by technological disruptions in the years ahead?
- Ontario’s debt level will reach $312 billion in the 2017/18 fiscal year. This represents approximately $22,000 per person or $44,000 per worker. Additionally, Ontario’s credit rating has been downgraded by Moody’s in 2012 and Standard & Poor's in 2015 signifying a loss of confidence in the province’s ability to service its debt to the same extent. Slipping credit ratings along with rising interest rates will place additional demands on servicing outstanding debt. Should the government take steps to pay down its debt load while the economy is running hot?
Photo credit: smartboy10, iStockphoto