What's next for Doug Ford's Ontario government after his PCs win another election
Bigger majority, weakened opposition, pandemic recovery, inflation will all factor in to how Ford governs
Doug Ford's resounding win in the Ontario election undoubtedly gives him and his Progressive Conservative government a strong mandate for the next four years. The big questions now surround what he will do with it.
1. How will Ford govern?
With an even bigger majority than the last time, a weakened leaderless NDP and a leaderless Liberal Party in tatters, will Ford believe he has carte blanche to pursue whatever agenda he wants? Will he revert to the bull-in-a-china-shop way he operated during his first year in office?
"Any leader, when you first get in, you grow into the position," Ford said Friday during his post-victory news conference when asked what he intends to do differently in his second term.
"I've learned a lot over the last four years."
Jaskaran Sandhu, a political strategist who has worked as an adviser for various parties, says Ford and the team around him have changed since coming to power.
"They were very aggressive out of the gate to the point where they alienated a lot of people," said Sandhu during the CBC News Ontario Votes 2022 election night special.
"For the next time around, Doug Ford is going to learn from that mistake."
With the opposition parties preoccupied by their own leadership races, Sandhu believes Ford can operate as "a leader that's in total control at Queen's Park" and doesn't need to engage in a combative style of politics.
WATCH | A look at how Ford pulled off another big PC victory:
2. What happens as pandemic wanes?
COVID-19 derailed the plans of governments all over the world and it was no exception in Ontario. Throughout 2020 and much of 2021, Ford was forced to devote the vast bulk of his attention to dealing with the pandemic.
With it no longer taking up so much of his focus as premier, will Ford feel liberated from the constraints of his first term and eager to make up for lost time in his second?
There are plenty of tough issues confronting the PC government in its second term, particularly fiscal and economic, said Jaime Watt, executive chairman of Navigator, a Toronto-based strategic communications firm and a longtime Conservative organizer.
"People will expect them, especially as an experienced government, to hit the ground running," Watt told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday. "I think he'll have a short honeymoon."
3. How does inflation factor in?
Affordability and the cost of living ranked at the top of nearly every published poll surveying voters for their top election issues. Ford offered three main things to make life more affordable, all focused on making it cheap to drive a car: scrapping the $120/year fee to register a vehicle, eliminating tolls on the provincially-owned 412 and 418 highways, and knocking 5.7 cents per litre off the gas tax starting July 1.
But those cost savings are far outweighed by rampant inflation, which is at a three-decade high of 6.8 per cent, eating deeply into the wages of Ontario workers.
It'll sure make things interesting at the bargaining table. The Ford government will soon face contract talks with the teachers unions and other education workers, and with inflation so high, wage increases are bound to be a major sticking point.
Ford said he aims to get "the best deal for the taxpayers, number one, but the best deal for the front-line teachers" in those negotiations.
"We are calling on Premier Ford to change his government's approach during this second term," said Karen Brown, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the province's biggest teachers union, in a statement issued Friday.
Brown said teachers were not consulted on crucial decisions about education over the past four years.
Together, we can ensure a public education system that supports, uplifts, and celebrates every student. "Let's get that done," said Brown, clearly poking at Ford's "Get It Done" campaign slogan.
4. Will Ford 'get it done?'
Speaking of that, Ontarians will be looking to see what the Ford government actually does get done over the next four years.
Progress on some of the "it" will be easy enough to measure, particularly building things: subways, highways, hospitals, long-term care homes and schools.
Oh, and that road to the Ring of Fire mining deposit in northern Ontario (something Ford actually promised last election to get built, if he had to jump on the bulldozer himself).
"We have a big agenda to fulfil and keep our promises," said Ford on Friday. "We are going to make sure we keep every single promise."
In the flurry of pre-campaign announcements promising to build stuff all over Ontario, the government was vague on timelines for many of the projects and sometimes even the costs, Highway 413 being the prime example.
With their "Get It Done" messaging about building things, the PCs leveraged to maximum political advantage the capital construction plan that the provincial government routinely tables every year by splashing a spotlight on projects just about anywhere in its 10-year-long pipeline.
If projects that the government announced in the run-up to this election don't have shovels in the ground by the next election, folks will be wondering whether "Get It Done" was anything other than a catchy slogan.
WATCH| Ontario's PCs win a second majority government:
5. Are cuts on the way?
Outgoing NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had some parting advice for Ford on what the election result did and did not mean.
"Doug Ford needs to realize that Ontarians did not vote for more cuts and privatization of the things that matter the most," Horwath said in her election night concession speech.
Ford once said listening to Horwath was "like listening to nails on a chalkboard." Is there any chance he would heed her advice?
Asked about the potential for cuts on Friday, Ford talked about what he called efficiencies.
"There are better ways of delivering services in a more efficient way at a lower cost," Ford said.
"We're going to make sure we respect the taxpayer's money. And that money that we save, it can go right into health care, goes right into education."