What to expect from Doug Ford's government in 2023

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured with some of his cabinet ministers during the accession ceremony for King Charles III at Queen’s Park in September. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured with some of his cabinet ministers during the accession ceremony for King Charles III at Queen’s Park in September. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

For Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government, 2023 will be a year to push forward with the "get it done" agenda they promised voters in the provincial election campaign.

If the first six months of Ford's second term are any indication, you can expect his government to move on that agenda with tactics and policies that raise plenty of controversy.

Since forming his new cabinet this summer, Ford's ministers brought in a raft of legislation ostensibly designed to increase the pace of housing construction.

The changes drew criticism because they also open up pockets of the Greenbelt to development, weaken the powers of conservation authorities, limit what municipalities can charge developers for infrastructure costs and give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa the power to push through bylaws with the support of only one third of city council.

One of the government's most controversial tactics so far in its new mandate was invoking the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights to ban education workers from striking.

Facing widespread anger from unions, including some that had endorsed his PC party, Ford did a U-turn only a few days later, repealed the bill and eventually reached a deal at the bargaining table.

Carlos Osorio/CBC
Carlos Osorio/CBC

CBC News requested a year-end interview with Ford in early December, but the request was not granted.

So to find out what to expect from the premier and his government in 2023, CBC News interviewed three PC insiders:

  • Kory Teneycke, co-founder and CEO of Rubicon Strategy. He managed both of Ford's provincial election campaigns.

  • Karl Baldauf, vice president at McMillian Vantage, a public affairs firm. He served as chief of staff to the Treasury Board president during Ford's first term.

  • Shakir Chambers, a principal at Earnsclliffe Strategies and former PC staffer at Queen's Park.

1. Focus on the economy

All three insiders believe the high rate of inflation and the risks of an economic downturn will preoccupy Ford and his government in the coming year.

"There are a lot of economists out there that are concerned that we're going to be in a recession, and that would by far be the biggest challenge facing not just the government of Ontario, but every government," said Teneycke.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Chambers believes the government will dole out more  "money in your pocket" rebates along the lines of its pre-election scrapping of vehicle registration fees and the $200 per child payments to parents of school-age kids.

"Those little $100 here, $50 there really matter to people and really resonate with the average voter," said Chambers.

Baldauf warns that financial measures that are too broadly-based could fuel inflation rather than tackle it.

"If the Ford government takes actions to put money in people's pockets, it's going to be in a very targeted way," Baldauf said. "They have to ensure that the money going out the door is going to those who are most struggling to deal with the inflationary pressures."

2. Health care in crisis 

Ensuring the viability of Ontario's health-care system will be "one of the biggest political challenges" facing the Ford government in 2023, said Baldauf.

"Health care is in people's face in a way that few other issues are," he said. "If somebody's waiting in an emergency room for a dozen hours on end, you can't get around that, you can't sugarcoat that with messaging. That's an issue you have to deal with through system change."

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press
Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

He predicts a big push by the government in 2023 for greater private sector involvement in the delivery of publicly funded health care. If he's correct, you can expect that to become pretty contentious.

Chambers notes that the government is yet to put forward a comprehensive policy on fixing the health-care system, instead offering piece-by-piece measures such as attempting to recruit more nurses and moving hospital patients into long-term care placements farther from their homes.

He expects there will be changes to health care because Ford and his government believe the status quo is not acceptable.

An open question is whether Ontario will put significantly more money into its $75-billion health budget. That could largely depend on whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's federal government ponies up.    

3. Sparring (and partnering) with Trudeau

Ford and the rest of Canada's premiers are engaged in a campaign calling for an increase to federal transfer payments for health care that would amount to an extra $28 billion a year. Trudeau has said he's willing to offer up money, but not how much and not without conditions.

Teneycke predicts the Trudeau government will reach some sort of deal with the provinces on health-care funding.

"I think the pressure is sufficient that you're going to see a movement on the federal side," he said.

Nicole Osborne/The Canadian Press
Nicole Osborne/The Canadian Press

But if there isn't a deal soon, you can expect Ford to bang the drum about federal funding more often and more loudly.

"I think you'll see the premier become more pointed in this regard especially through the winter months as Ontarians struggle with the challenges of the health-care system," said Baldauf.

While the health-care funding issue pits Ford against Trudeau as adversaries, there are other issues on which they and their governments are working together as partners: establishing an electric vehicle industry, extracting the critical minerals for EV batteries, building transit, reducing emissions from steel plants and tackling the housing shortage.

Ford and Trudeau are "more than willing to work together to get results, because they share a lot of the same voters in ridings that decide elections," said Chambers.

4. Will controversial moves deliver housing?  

Critics say the Ford government is using the housing crisis as a pretext to make changes that help housing developers maximize their profits. The coming year will be a test of whether the government's measures actually do more than that.

Since 2020, new housing starts in Ontario have been at all-time highs, but have yet to exceed 100,000 per year, according to statistics from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. That means the pace of construction must pick up dramatically for Ford to keep his promise of 1.5 million new homes built in a decade.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press
Chris Young/The Canadian Press

But with an economic environment of high interest rates, inflation pushing up construction costs and a slumping real estate market, there are plenty of predictions that new home starts will actually decline in 2023 rather than rise. Even the government's own forecasts show housing starts failing to total more than 85,000 annually in each of the next three years.

"I think there are a lot more things that the government's going to try to do," said Teneycke. "But a lot of what has to happen is more on the execution and implementation side."

Teneycke says the government was right to make structural changes to housing development policy early in its new mandate.

"You need to have time for those changes to actually take effect and to work their way through the system so that you're starting to see outcomes by the time the next election rolls around," he said.

Chambers says Ford and his government have done a lot of talking about housing.

"What they want to see now is progress. Are we actually building?"

5. Expect the unexpected

Ford's time as premier has shown it can be difficult to predict his government's moves with great accuracy. From slashing the size of Toronto city council in 2018 to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2021 (after previously freezing it) to breaking his oft repeated promise not to touch the Greenbelt in 2022, Ford has done things as premier that he'd not signalled ahead of time.

So it's likely safe to expect in 2023 that Ford will do something you don't expect.

Carlos Osorio/CBC
Carlos Osorio/CBC

Asked what issue they think the government will tackle in the coming year that has not been making headlines, both Teneycke and Baldauf independently flagged the skilled trades workforce.

"We're just desperately short of people in the skilled trades," said Teneycke. "These are the people that you need to build the highways and dig the subway tunnels and build the new condo towers and the new houses."

"Ensuring people can work in the jobs of the future ... will be an important priority, I imagine, for this government," said Baldauf.

Other items on the horizon in 2023:

  • The provincial budget must be tabled by March 31, although the precise date is typically not announced until a week or two before budget day.