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The state of provincial politics, explained

IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

The state of provincial politics, explained

On June 7, 2018, Ontarians will head to the polls and elect a premier. With Democracy Week happening from September 15–21, people across the province will be celebrating our democratic institutions in preparation for the next major election.

The Varsity compiled a guide outlining the current state of provincial politics as we enter the unofficial campaign period this school year; before the media buzz and before the noise — this is what you need to know, now.

The Issues at Hand

Education

Students will want to pay particular attention to this election cycle as there are a variety of policy proposals that will directly affect them. Kathleen Wynne’s education budget was increased to $23.8 billion this year, however, much of these funds will be distributed within the public and Catholic school boards to help children with special needs and reduce class sizes.

Another education issue up for debate is whether public and Catholic school boards should be merged. Merging the two school boards will help with budget allocation and will reduce redundancies in the budget but will cause a prominent culture-shift in the province.

With regards to post-secondary education, candidates will likely argue vastly different opinions on specific issues that affect college and university students. These issues include recent reforms in financial aid for students, including the implementation of the Ontario Student Grant, an additional $6 million for post-secondary mental health funding, and possible changes to funding programs based on graduation statistics and employment rates.

Environment, resources, and energy

Speak to any homeowner in Ontario and you are almost guaranteed to hear dissatisfaction with the rapidly increasing costs of hydro. This has been one of the more controversial aspects of the provincial government, and can partly account for Kathleen Wynne’s abysmal approval rating. It is possible that hydro rates, and the sale of Hydro One, will be a deciding factor in the 2018 Provincial Election.

The environment is another important issue this election, however it seems to have dropped in urgency among the electorate given the concerns surrounding hydro rates.

The economy

Employment and the job market is almost always a point of contention for party leaders in election campaigns and, unsurprisingly, the issue is just as important for much of the province. Additionally, jobs are on the forefront of the minds of post-secondary students, especially those graduating soon. While Ontario is experiencing its lowest unemployment rate since 2001, the youth unemployment rate remains higher than the national average.

Housing affordability and the housing market is a cause for concern. Demand for houses and apartments is on the rise within the GTA and the lack of properties for sale is causing prices to skyrocket. According to RBC’s Provincial Outlook, the rapidly increasing housing prices were on a path to destabilize the market, however Wynne’s Fair Housing Plan has slowed these rapid increases.

Healthcare

One issue expected to garner a lot of voter attention during this campaign is healthcare. Currently, Ontario has a universal, single-payer healthcare system to provide healthcare for citizens. Yet, Canadians are required to pay out of pocket or depend on insurance provided by employers to cover the cost of prescriptions.

Pharmacare, hospital, and clinic wait times will remain a primary topic in this election cycle.

Transit

Transit and infrastructure will be a specific concern for the electorate within the GTA. There have been significant controversies within the TTC in the past few years, including the dismal Bombardier streetcar contract and the PRESTO contract.

According to the TTC’s status report by CEO Andy Byford, customer service performance was off target for all four subway lines with regards to transit delays. The GTA’s electorate has undoubtedly noticed these delays and will likely take this into consideration when casting their vote.

Another consideration will be the rising cost of the one-stop Scarborough subway extension and the criticisms it has faced.

The breakdown: who’s who in the 2018 provincial election

Patrick Brown — Progressive Conservative (PC) Party

Sitting at the top of the polls, with 10–20 point differences, is PC Leader Patrick Brown. Elected to the position on May 9, 2015, Brown is no newcomer to politics. Brown comes from a political background, having served as the MP for Barrie under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper for nine years. Prior to this, Brown was elected to Barrie’s city council when he was 22.

Brown’s platform has struggled to win voters’ attention, however as the election campaign gets underway, it is likely that specific platform points will become more apparent.

Brown has focused much of his leadership on invoking a grassroots, socially progressive image for the PC party with an entire advertising campaign focused on diversifying the image of the party as more inclusive to Ontarians with minority ethnic and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and religious beliefs.

Brown also attended and marched as part of the Toronto Pride parade in a sign of support for LGBTQ+ Ontarians. However, as a federal member of parliament, Brown opposed gay marriage.

Much of Brown’s policy thus far concerns the environment and hydro taxes. His endorsement of a carbon tax and explicit acknowledgement of climate change is a powerful attempt at rebranding the PC image.“I am going to be a Progressive Conservative who talks about the environment,” he stated.

Although no official hydro plan has yet been proposed by the PC party, Brown denounced Wynne’s 25 per cent hydro rate cut. He argued that it is short sighted, that long-term interest will cost Ontarians $25 billion, and that it fails to target “structural issues,” specifically the “bad” private electricity contracts he vows to cancel if elected Premier.

What to watch for this year:

Social issues: Brown has a track record for social conservatism, however his PC rebranding could suggest otherwise

Leadership: Brown has offered the public little on his personality and personal leadership style

Policy: expect concrete policies this coming year

Andrea Horwath — New Democratic Party (NDP)

Trailing closely behind Brown in the polls is NDP leader Andrea Horwath. Horwath has been the leader of the provincial NDP for eight years, despite having received flack for triggering the last provincial election by revoking support for the Liberal’s budget and subsequently failing to increase NDP seats.

With an arguably vague platform in the 2014 election, the NDP this year has an ambitious and specific platform. The platform is outlined in a 40-page vision statement entitled “It’s About Change. It’s About You.”

Broadly speaking, in addition to promising to raise the minimum wage in Ontario to $15 last year — something the Liberal government announced this past May — Horwath’s platform points mostly encapsulate hydro and pharmacare.

With regards to hydro, the NDP has outlined a policy proposing to cut hydro costs by up to 30 per cent through negotiations with the federal government. They have also said they will renegotiate or cancel long-term private electricity contracts signed by previous Liberal and Conservative provincial governments.

Recently, Horwath also announced the NDP’s $475 million-a-year universal pharmacare plan, the first in Canada, which would guarantee all Ontarians prescription drug coverage. The NDP proposes that the plan would create $835 million in savings for private payers, and $1.9 billion in private sector savings.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Distance from the Liberals: recently, Horwath stated the Liberals were stealing NDP policy ideas; will the NDP stand out enough to get elected?

Popularity: in a traditionally-centrist province, it will be interesting to see if the NDP can garner enough political hype to prove competitive in this race

Kathleen Wynne — Liberal Party

Lagging in the polls is Kathleen Wynne, our current Premier. Leading the Liberal Party in the battle for re-election, Wynne is facing dissatisfaction from all sides of the political spectrum.  However, some political pundits have suggested that some criticisms may stem from sexism and homophobia.   

With the anger of many Ontarians still fresh from the recent hydro crisis, Wynne’s platform this year is as critical as ever. Liberal Party rankings have increased following several major policy announcements made between April and May alongside the release of the 2017 provincial budget. Some of these policy announcements include the Liberal’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15, reduce housing market tension by introducing a tax on foreign buyers, and follow a balanced budget with a youth pharmacare plan.

In her tenure, Wynne has also established a new Anti-Racism Directorate, implemented a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, and reduced the unemployment rate. These are the plans and policies that will push the Liberal Party forward throughout the election campaign in the next 11 months.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Approval rating: Wynne has record low ratings — will her left-leaning policies boost her popularity enough to get re-elected?

Framing: with widespread dissatisfaction, how will the Liberals frame their party this election?

Mike Schreiner — Green Party

Mike Schreiner has been the leader of the provincial Green Party since November 2009. The Ontario Greens have yet to win a seat in the House and are widely considered to be a long-shot in the upcoming election.

Schreiner has a background in business; he’s owned an organic and local food distribution company for over a decade.

The Green Party appears to have gained some momentum following the recent provincial election in British Columbia, where they successfully won three seats.

Schreiner has yet to release a full platform, however, in recent months he has publicly advocated for sustainable housing development and low-cost water power. He opposed the sale of Hydro One, and is pleased with the recent reforms in electoral fundraising that have effectively banned donations from both unions and corporations.

Of course, Schreiner, like most Green Party candidates, puts climate change at the top of his political platform.

Things to keep an eye out for this year:

Recognition: will Ontario recognize the Green Party as a contender, and win their first seat this election?

It’s up to voters

Throughout the year, each political leader will gradually shape their platforms and fine-tune their political agendas. Issues will continue to develop and media coverage will pick up speed. Oftentimes, campaign season sees superfluous promises, hyperbolic concerns, and late-in-the-game issues to entice voters to vote for a specific party. As Election Day approaches, the need for self-motivated research is increasingly necessary to ensure students are making a truly informed