By Henry Gray (AIMS On Campus Student Fellow)
Doug Ford was recently sworn in as the new Premier of Ontario, ending 15 years of uninterrupted Liberal rule in Canada’s most populous province. The PC leader rode a wave of change into Queen’s Park, promising to shake up business as usual.
You might be asking yourself “what business?” if you subscribe to the belief that as a populist candidate his biggest concern is returning Ontario to the glory of ‘Buck-a-Beer’. However, his leadership leaves a little more to the imagination than cheap suds.
It appears that Mr. Ford will have his work cut out for him. Long considered Canada’s economic engine, Ontario became a “have not” province in 2014 under Kathleen Wynne. In 2015, it assumed the ignominious title of the world’s most indebted sub-sovereign and saw its credit rating downgraded to AA- by Fitch Ratings, its lowest level ever. Public sector unions and other special interests have ridden roughshod over the political process, and public trust has been eroded by sweetheart deals for government insiders such as electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla. Under the Liberal government, Ontario began subsidizing zero-emissions vehicles. Studies have found that offering rebates on the purchase of electric cars are simultaneously one of the most expensive and least effective ways to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Wynne government also drew criticism when it announced that it was removing a provision that had previously prevented Tesla owners from receiving the maximum rebate of $14,000 around the same time that a senior Liberal staffer was hired by Tesla.
The incoming premier has laid out an encouragingly ambitious plan to restore Ontario’s fiscal health. Indeed, a precedent was set when the Ford government froze pay raises for public sector managers mere hours after taking office, leaving no room for public hesitation on the government’s plans to make good on its election promise of finding $6 billion worth of efficiencies in government spending without firing anyone. Moreover, Premier Ford is vowing to follow through on another platform plank by scrapping Ontario’s cap and trade system, which increases the price of gasoline by 4.3 cents per litre. The elimination of the centrepiece of Premier Wynne’s environmental legacy will facilitate Premier Ford’s achievement of his stated goal of a 10 cent reduction in the price of gasoline. The costs of the carbon tax are also passed on to already burdened families in the form of higher hydro bills, as well as goods and services that produce emissions. Eliminating the carbon tax will stimulate Ontario’s economy in addition to letting Ontario families keep more of what they earn.
Finally, Doug Ford will also go a long way towards returning Ontario to “have” status by following through on his famous “buck-a-beer” pledge. During the election campaign, Mr. Ford promised to reverse the Liberal government decision, made in 2008, to increase the minimum price floor for beer. The PCs also committed to expanding the sale of beer and wine to corner stores, a convenience the residents of neighbouring Quebec have enjoyed for years. These measures would encourage price competition, which will be beneficial both to consumers and to producers.
Doug Ford has already meaningfully shaken up the status quo in Ontario but creating a better Ontario will require a concerted and focused effort over many years. The PC government can expect to face numerous hurdles and distractions over the next four years. Mr. Ford must not allow himself to be distracted by a hostile press or led astray by self-serving lobbyists or ingratiating special interests. There are many good things to be said about the plan that Premier Ford presented to the people of Ontario and which won him his mandate. However, the key to the success of Mr. Ford’s effort to restore Ontario’s prosperity will be staying the course.