Rapid Policy Update
Liberal Party Platform 2018May 29, 2018
On May 26, 2018, the Ontario Liberal Party released their platform for the 2018 election.
This platform largely re-iterates Budget 2018 (see our RPU here) and legislation introduced in the past year, including the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act, the Fair Hydro Plan, and the Fair Housing Plan. It is a collection of new promises that build on initiatives which were announced but not implemented during the Liberals’ last term of government.
Below are those highlights of the Liberal platform most relevant to Ontario business.
Transportation and Infrastructure
The Liberal platform includes plans for new and expanded infrastructure investments, such as:
- Expand GO service through GO Regional Express Rail projects; add services such as banking, grocery stores, and dry cleaning to GO stations.
- Invest in the Toronto Relief Line Subway, Yonge North Subway Extension, Toronto Waterfront LRT, Toronto-York Spadina Extension, Scarborough Subway extension, Hamilton LRT, Ottawa LRT, Durham, and London Bus Rapid Transit, and rapid transit in municipalities such as Brampton, Mississauga and Waterloo.
- Spend $11 billion to build a high-speed rail line between Toronto and Windsor.
- Reduce fares for GTHA transit users.
- $140 million to improve cycling infrastructure.
- Build and upgrade highways across the province.
- Increase annual funding to the Connecting Links Program to $30 million.
- Put $490 million over the next 10 years to towards rail infrastructure in Northern Ontario, through the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC); completed the expansion of the ONTC’s motor coach services into Northwestern Ontario so that travel from Ottawa to Winnipeg can be completed with a single reservation.
- Build a year-round access road to the Ring of Fire; road construction is promised to begin in 2019.
- Invest an additional $206 million over 10 years in infrastructure in northern and rural Ontario, as part of a bilateral agreement with the federal government.
- Commit to permanent annual funding to four-lane the TransCanada highway from the Manitoba border to the Quebec border until the project is fully completed; call on the federal government to match Ontario’s investment.
- Increase Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund funding to $300 million by 2018-19.
- Continue to expand access to natural gas to Northern communities that are not currently served.
- Finalize and implement the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy and Action Plan.
- Invest an additional $500 million over three years to expand broadband connectivity in rural and northern communities; seek proposals from the northern and rural communities on where this money will have the greatest impact; improve cellular coverage gaps in eastern Ontario.
The OCC has consistently advocated for investments in public infrastructure, such as roads and transportation systems. Investments in public infrastructure are welcome as they will result in lowered business costs and increased labour productivity. We note, however, that there must be strong performance measures in place to evaluate the performance of the transportation infrastructure investments being made as well as comprehensive tracking of the transportation infrastructure projects being built and being earmarked to be built. Additionally, there should be accountability methods in place, such as producing annual public documents highlighting the progress made against previous fiscal year funding commitments, to ensure that spending commitments have been met.
The OCC welcomes further investment to enable more communities to access natural gas. Doing so will attract new industry, make commercial transportation and agriculture more affordable, and provide a cleaner source of energy for Ontario.
The OCC has consistently advocated for trade-enabling infrastructure, including both traditional infrastructure and digital infrastructure such as high-speed broadband internet. Further investment in broadband is critical, as the province’s competitiveness relies on infrastructure that can connect communities and open access to global markets.
Skills and Workforce Development
Liberal plans for apprenticeship, training and experiential learning include:
- Expanding the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, which allows grade 11 and 12 students to work toward becoming certified journeypersons while completing their high school diploma.
- A $170 million investment over three years in the new Ontario Apprenticeship Strategy.
- A Graduated Apprenticeship Grant for employers to hire new apprentices, with additional incentives to hire underrepresented groups.
- $63 million for an Ontario Training Bank, to create short-term training options for workers who want to upgrade their skills with those in-demand from employers.
- Increased investments in the Ontario Bridge Training Program.
- $132 million over the next three years in post-secondary programming with employers, including experiential learning opportunities.
- Develop a plan to increase the number of graduates in STEM fields by 25 percent.
The OCC has consistently emphasized skills and workforce development as a priority for Ontario’s business community, with 77 percent of OCC members stating that the ability to recruit and retain talent is critical to their organizational competitiveness. While these proposed investments are welcome, we would welcome further program redesign and stakeholder engagement. For our recommendations with respect to skills and workforce development see the OCC’s report, Talent in Transition: Addressing the Skills Mismatch in Ontario.
Jobs and Economic Growth
Introduced in Budget 2018, the Good Jobs and Growth Plan is intended to increase funding of the Jobs and Prosperity Fund by $900 million over the next decade. Other promises include:
- Invest in regional economic development across the province, including increasing Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation funding to $150 million in 2020–21 and add $100 million to the Eastern Ontario Development Fund and the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund over the next 10 years.
- Partner with businesses in select sectors to increase their productivity and competitiveness, including advanced manufacturing, information and communications technology, life sciences, cleantech, forestry, and food and beverages. This includes a $50 million Transformative Technology Partnerships Fund to support AI, 5G wireless communications, advanced computing and autonomous vehicles.
- Add $85 million over 10 years to the Venture Technologies Fund and increase investment in the New Economy Fund by $500 million over 10 years.
- Increase Ontario’s two R&D tax credits to encourage investment and commercialization.
- Develop a strategy to help Ontario firms protect and leverage their intellectual property.
- Continue to “stand up” for Ontario on trade, as well as expand and diversity trade opportunities. The Liberals also intend to bring in a regulation in response to New York State’s Buy American legislation.
- Review, “in consultation with the business community”, the Arthur Wishart Act franchise legislation.
- Devote up to $26 million in a Main Street Revitalization Initiative to help rural communities attract tourism.
Broadly, the OCC supports an economic growth strategy that recognizes and is responsive to the province’s many regional and sectoral differences. Improving business competitiveness and productivity depends on the government creating the right environment with pro-growth policies and less red tape, not just investing in innovation.
Government action on venture and innovation funding, as well as increasing R&D tax credits, is necessary to help Ontario overcome our challenges with scaling and commercialization. The OCC believes that more can be done with respect to increasing tax competitiveness and investment incentives, as illustrated in Breaking Barriers: Ontario’s Scale-Up Challenge and Adopting Our Advantage: Supporting a Thriving Health Science Sector in Ontario.
The OCC believes that the best course of trade action is the formation of positive bilateral cooperation with the United States, especially in key trading states. We will always promote diplomacy and a spirit of cooperation instead of measures that would diminish positive economic growth.
Ontario’s current tax environment does not instill confidence in its business community and the Liberal platform does not address that concern. As revealed by a recent survey, 61 percent of Ontario businesses attribute their lack of confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook to high business tax rates. Given the recent amendments to the US tax legislation, which includes lowering both the Corporate Income Tax and Personal Income Tax rates, Ontario may soon face significant challenges attracting investment and economically competing against U.S. states.
Labour and Employment Law
The Liberal platform intends to continue with the path outlined in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act. This includes:
- Increase the minimum wage to $15 on January 1, 2019, with future annual increases at the rate of inflation.
- Mandate equal pay for part-time, temporary, casual or seasonal workers doing the same job as full-time employees; mandate equal pay for temporary help agency employees doing the same job as employees at the agencies’ clients.
- Expand personal emergency leave to 10 days per calendar year, two of which are paid.
- Increase minimum vacation time to three weeks after five years with the same employer.
- Allows an employee to take up to 17 weeks of leave, including five paid days, when the worker or their child has experienced or is threatened with domestic or sexual violence.
- Ban employers from requiring a physician’s sick note from an employee taking personal emergency leave.
- Require employees to be paid for three hours of work if their shift is cancelled within 48 hours of its scheduled start time.
- Establish card-based union certification for industries with “vulnerable” workforces.
- Create an Occupational Disease Response Plan
- Review exclusions in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board coverage; guarantee injured workers’ benefits keep pace with the cost of living; introduce new working-at-heights regulations and a construction safety health and action plan.
- Implement the Pay Transparency Act.
- Strike a task force to review the federal government’s second parent leave policy and identify ways to build on it.
The OCC has been vocal that the approach taken with the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act has been “too much, too soon” and, through an independent economic analysis, predicts that 185,000 jobs will be at risk over the next two years. Additionally, the needs and experiences of employers must be better addressed through improved consultation and stakeholder engagement practices. To plan effectively and protect jobs, employers need predictability and time to adjust the cost of other inputs. In order to demonstrate true fairness and compassion for workers, we must ensure Ontario has a strong private sector to help create jobs and increase economic growth. For more information, see our Bill 148: Independent Economic Impact Analysis.
With respect to the gender pay gap and related pay equity practices, the OCC would rather the next government consider revisiting the Pay Equity Act with an eye to improving the ability of employers to comply instead of implementing new and duplicative regulation via the Pay Transparency Act. For more information, see our Bill 3 submission.
The Liberal platform places an emphasis on supporting the agri-food sector, including explicit support for the supply management system and agricultural exports under a new NAFTA. They also promise to lobby the federal government to provide assistance to businesses and workers impacted by new trade agreements. They intend to renew a 10-year agreement with the University of Guelph that invests $700 million in agri-food education and research and will spend $120 million over the next three years on the food and beverage industry. The Liberals will also develop a new strategy to grow the beverage alcohol sector.
The OCC welcomes support for the agri-food sector and believes that positive trade relationships are based on a spirit of cooperation and diplomacy, which facilitates strong economic growth.
A greater focus on Ontario’s agri-food sector is welcome, particularly with respect to growing a highly-skilled workforce. However, for Ontario’s farms to succeed, high input costs and a growing regulatory burden must be addressed first. See the OCC report, Fertile Ground: Growing the Competitiveness of Ontario’s Agri-Food Sector.
Beyond the continued implementation of the Fair Housing Plan, the Liberals promise to:
- Tighten rules in favour of tenants, including those related to “renovictions” and above-guideline rent increases due to capital repairs; Prohibit above-guideline rent increases in buildings with outstanding work orders related to pest control.
- Work with stakeholders to enable small-scale residential intensification that would allow homeowners to build multi-unit projects on their land.
- Urge the federal government to address the differing tax treatment of rental construction compared to condo development.
The OCC recognizes that much of Ontario’s housing affordability challenges come from a lack of supply. We welcome initiatives that enable the government to work with stakeholders such as developers and municipalities to create innovative regulatory solutions which will incentivize the right development for communities. However, continued efforts to restrict landlords’ flexibility and limit rent increases are not productive means of increasing the supply of rental units.
Major health system initiatives include:
- Increase hospital funding by $822 million in 2018-19.
- Remove the deductible or co-payment for seniors’ prescriptions.
- Introduce an Ontario Drug and Dental Program in 2019 to reimburse individuals for 80 percent of prescription drug and dental costs (up to set limits).
- Add $2.1 billion to the current mental health and addiction care spend over the next four years.
- Invest $650 million in home care over the next three years
- Create 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next 10 years.
- Continue to invest in telemedicine and virtual care.
- Maintain current nursing staffing levels but hire more nurses.
While hospital funding has been limited in recent years, this influx of spending does not address the fundamental challenges within the health care system nor is it directed towards the solutions identified by the OCC in our report, Health Transformation: An Action Plan for Ontario. Similarly, the expansion of OHIP+ is not aligned with the principles of an effective Pharmacare program outlined in our recent Pharmacare Report.
The Liberals will continue to implement their Climate Change Action Plan, which includes the cap and trade system. Proposed new initiatives include approximately $20 million over three years to launch a Climate Change Resiliency Organization to help businesses and municipalities make “climate-informed” decisions. Additionally, the Liberals propose investing $2.3 billion in green infrastructure projects such as wastewater infrastructure upgrades.
They also promise to undertake a province-wide risk assessment to inform a comprehensive climate adaptation strategy, and work with financial regulators to create a “climate-resilient” financial system.
The allocation of any revenue collected as part of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction programs should be revenue neutral, transparent, and support business competitiveness. This can include returning revenue to businesses and consumers through tax cuts or rebates. The Liberal platform does not indicate specific financial means by which they would offset the cost of cap and trade for businesses not in that market.
In our report, Building Better: Setting up the Next Long-Term Infrastructure Plan for Success, the OCC advocated that government should develop adaptable and resilient infrastructure standards that can address various future pressures including climate change and demographic changes. We are encouraged by plans within the Liberal platform for greater emphasis on building climate change resiliency for municipal infrastructure, specifically storm water and sewage systems.
Debt and Deficit
The Liberal platform charts a “Fiscal Recovery Plan” that calls for deficits until 2024-25, when the Budget will be balanced. They expect to see a surplus in 2025-26.
In Vote Prosperity, the OCC is calling on the newly elected government to create a meaningful plan to tackle the debt and move towards a balanced or surplus Budget. It is imperative for the government to operate in a fiscally responsible fashion to ensure that we can finance the operations of government both now and into the future.
The OCC remains concerned with the precarious fiscal situation of the province and 2025-26 is too long to wait for a return to fiscal responsibility.
Government Accountability and Customer Service
The Liberals are focused on improving customer service in government, particularly through new online platforms. They will introduce an online driver’s licence and modernize services for licence renewal. They also intend to launch MobileOntario vans to bring ServiceOntario to underserved communities.
The Liberals promise to create a government-wide performance dashboard for services. Additionally, they will create a 24/7 Office of Customer Service with a Quick Response Commitment.
Improving government accountability is one of the four pillars of our Vote Prosperity platform. The OCC understands that accountability in government is paramount to building an ecosystem where the people and businesses of this province can be successful.
We have long called for improved value-for-money and return on investment assessments of government programs and services, as well as more robust consultation with stakeholders. Increased use of online platforms is critical to improving government customer service, but performance and accountability dashboards should be introduced across Ministries, not exclusively for resident-facing services. In addition, Vote Prosperity recommends that the government provide timelines when implementing initiatives to ensure that priorities to improve government accountability are appropriately met and followed through.
In October, the OCC released Vote Prosperity, our platform for the 2018 provincial election on June 7. The release of a platform nine months prior to the election was intended to ensure all parties have an opportunity to address the most important issues to business within their own platforms.