The re-elected government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford will return to Queen’s Park for its first session since the June election as it faces mounting crises in health care, housing and cost of living in the province.
The summer session begins Monday with the provincial throne speech on Tuesday, after which Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy will retable the 2022 budget.
Bethlenfalvy released the budget in April, too late to be debated or passed in the legislature before it broke for the election.
The government has said the latest iteration is a “slightly tweaked” version of that document, which essentially served as an election platform for the Progressive Conservatives leading into the election. The party bulldozed opposition parties to win another majority government.
The throne speech, delivered by Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, will set out the government’s goals and plans for the upcoming legislative session.
It’s unlikely the government will prioritize environmental issues or climate change. The April budget scarcely mentioned environment or climate, and Ford’s government was openly antagonistic toward green energy programs, electric vehicles, protecting the Greenbelt and other pro-environment measures during his first term as premier.
“We’re not expecting much of a focus on the environment, quite frankly,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Toronto-based Environmental Defence.
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The government under Ford has offered few plans around climate change or the environment, said Brooks, aside from wanting to build new highways like the 413 and the Bradford Bypass.
“We’ll be looking to see, are they still talking about those highways?” said Brooks.
He said the organization will also be following any plans for housing and urban growth. Ontario is expecting a massive influx of people in the coming years, and municipalities are wrestling with how to accommodate more people amid an already crushing housing crisis. Some have opted to expand outward over farmland and green space. York Region’s council recently approved a plan that would see its urban boundaries cut into the erstwhile sacrosanct Greenbelt.
“We could hope that there is some change of direction,” said Brooks. “It’s not a certainty, that’s for sure, but if the premier really wants to present himself as a changed person who’s listening to what the public wants and actually sees the evidence in front of him, then, you know, it’s not an impossibility.”
The Ontario NDP, which once again forms the official Opposition, called on the government to table a budget that “deals with the health-care crisis, and with exploding inflation.”
Inflation has risen more than eight per cent since the April budget, it noted, and hospitals and other health-care facilities are facing crushing staff shortages that have closed emergency departments, reduced services and led to long wait times and health-care workers warning of a collapsing system.
“People are paying too high a price right now, in more ways than one,” NDP interim leader Peter Tabuns said in the statement. “It doesn’t have to be this way. The throne speech and the budget are the opportunities to give people the hope and relief they deserve.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government needs to act to address the climate crisis along with those in health care, housing, affordability and other areas.
“I would argue that climate is directly related to some of those issues,” said Schreiner, pointing out that floods and droughts were driving food costs up even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine strangled world grain supplies, and that public transit and electric vehicles — if available — provide relief from high fuel prices.
“There’s a direct connection between addressing the climate crisis and addressing the affordability crisis that we’re facing, especially when it comes to food, fuel and housing,” he said.
“The world is on fire right now and Ontario, at least in the first four years of the Ford government, went in the wrong direction.”