Politics has always been a matter of trust. Candidates lay the chips down, the electorate hears their promises and has to decide which are attainable and which are blown smoke. In the wake of the Liberal budget tabled last week, however, that matter of trust appears to be a central theme for the 2018 Ontario election, which is now just two months away.
Sluggish in recent opinion polls, Kathleen Wynne’s government has doubled down on its commitment to spend more money to offer expanded childcare, drug and dental reimbursements for many, and expanded drug coverage for seniors. It says it will make its largest investment in hospitals in over 10 years and allocate money for mental health. There are also aggressive commitments for transportation and communications infrastructure in the plan tabled last week.
Wynne and her government will be asking the public to trust their plan to continue to post deficits to pay for those programming decisions despite warnings the economy may be heading for a downturn and low interest rates are likely to rise, having an impact on debt servicing. They’ll ask people to trust that they’re making the right decisions to spend more after already increasing revenue through measures like the carbon tax, which have raised prices. Ultimately, opposition parties will also be rallying the public to ask why they should trust this government to make these investments now when they’ve had 15 years to consider them.
The NDP also proposes a plan that would spend for pharmacare and dental care and in improving access to health care services. It says it would work to deprivatize Hydro One. If that program spending is important to Ontario residents, it would make sense they’d trust veteran leader Andrea Horwath’s party given the lack of confidence in the government — not to mention the NDP championed many of those ideas before the Liberals did. Often, when the party is mentioned as an alternative, someone inevitably brings up Bob Rae and the NDP’s only period governing the province. While the party governed in a difficult economic time, questions still abound about whether the public can trust an NDP government to be fiscally prudent in office. Horwath must also overcome distrust in the system and fears of vote-splitting on the left.
The Ontario PC Party, under Doug Ford, has been critical of the government for not forecasting budgets in the black over the next six years, but they, too, face a battle to earn the public’s trust. As much as many taxpayers are crying out for fiscal restraint, austerity is never an easy sell, particularly in the face of the spending the Liberal and NDP have called for with their platform announcements. While Ford’s idea to scrap the carbon tax could leave money in voters’ pockets, they’ll be looking to see what the party won’t be spending on because it doesn’t have that revenue stream. Given that the party released a platform under Patrick Brown that used that money, the issue will dog Ford’s team until they release their own accounting.
The opposition parties also likely have fodder here as they know Ford has a reputation for acting off the cuff. They also recall all too well the last election, when then-PC leader Tim Hudak spoke too frankly about potential public sector cuts and allowed fear to sink his campaign. Social media posts have already been circulating stoking that fire. The fear of the possible cuts unknown will be their biggest challenge.
The race is on to see who can best earn the public’s trust.