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Sean Speer: If Doug Ford needs a governing agenda, improving Ontarians’ quality of life would be a good start

Commentary

Now that the Ontario election is over, the question is: what next?

It’s clear that the Ford government has a mandate but it’s less clear what that mandate is for. The Progressive Conservative Party’s modest policy platform essentially affirmed the government’s pre-election budget2022 Ontario Budget: Ontario’s Plan to Build https://budget.ontario.ca/2022/index.html which will be effectuated in short order. That necessarily leaves the better part of four years for which to develop and implement a governing agenda. 

Answering this question is somewhat complicated by the fact that the incoming government’s electoral coalition is broad and diverse. It needs to pursue a set of policies that speak to the party’s core conservative voters as well as newer ones in Toronto and Thunder Bay. 

One source of potential commonality regardless of ideology or postal code is what American conservative thinker Reihan Salam calls “quality-of-life conservatism.” His basic premise is that conservatives ought to commit themselves to a set of issues that cumulatively influence the public’s overall sense of its quality of life. 

While there may be different emphases in different parts of the province—in Toronto, for instance, a quality-of-life conservatism may emphasize housing and transportation compared to Thunder Bay where it might focus more on good jobs and broadband access—the common theme of improving the quality of life of Ontarians can provide philosophical scaffolding for the Ford government’s forthcoming four-year agenda. 

The basic foundation of Salam’s quality-of-life conservatism is public safety. Ontario Conservatives should continue to generally oppose the Trudeau government’s and now the Supreme Court’s decarceral agenda and more recent calls for the decriminalization of hard drugs. As we’ve seen in American cities such as New York and San Francisco, this soft-on-crime progressivism is bound to lead to rising criminality and disorder. 

Instead, the goal of stronger province-wide public safety ought to start with more and better policing, an openness to credible firearms reform (including tougher criminal sanctions for crimes involving guns), and following the Kenney government’s drug rehabilitation alternative to the Left’s failed (and morally dubious) harm reduction strategy.

A second pillar of a quality-of-life conservatism would prioritize the adoption of the province’s Housing Affordability Task Force’s recommendationsHousing Affordability Task Force report https://www.ontario.ca/page/housing-affordability-task-force-report to reduce red tape, expedite housing construction, and enable new and different forms of housing, including laneway homes and other types that fill the so-called “missing middle.” 

Addressing the province’s housing affordability crisis is not only a key to improving quality of life, but it can also unlock greater economic activity, including higher rates of innovation and productivity, by enabling highly-skilled workers to cluster in Toronto and the province’s other dynamic cities. 

Another pillar of quality-of-life conservatism would be greater ambition in health-care reform. The Ford government has been more hesitant than many of its provincial peers in leveraging private delivery to address Ontario’s massive pandemic-induced backlog of surgeries and diagnostic tests. The Ontario Medical Association now estimates that there’s a backlog of more than 20 million health-care services across the province. These protracted delays, which lead to economic costs as well as individual pain and suffering, are an obvious threat to one’s quality of life. The Ford government should therefore put a broader set of reforms on the table including adopting the OMA’s proposal for a network of community surgical centres to carry out routine surgeries (such as hips and knees) outside of hospitals.Integrated Ambulatory Centres: A Three-Stage Approach to Addressing Ontario’s Critical Surgical and Procedural Wait Times https://www.oma.org/uploadedfiles/oma/media/public/addressing-wait-times-proposal.pdf

More and different forms of child-care should also be on the government’s agenda. The province’s inadequate child-care supply which is driving up the costs for young families, particularly in major cities, is due at least in part to a panoply of provincial regulations. As the Ford government starts to implement the federal-provincial agreement on child-care, it should conduct a review of its own regulatory framework in the name of enabling child-care pluralism to flourish in the province. The current supply-demand disequilibrium in Ontario’s constellation of child-care options should be understood as a government failure. 

Prior to the election, the Ford government had placed a major emphasis on public infrastructure investment including broadband and subways. This should continue in the new mandate but with a greater focus on reducing construction red tape and leveraging new and cheaper technologies. 

On broadband, the government should follow Quebec’s lead by extending high-quality coverage through satellite technology based on some combination of Canadian-based Telesat and Elon Musk’s Starlink. It’s the cheapest and fastest means of achieving greater equity when comes to internet access across the province. As for more traditional infrastructure, the emphasis must be on translating the campaign slogan of “Get it Done” into a practical agenda of regulatory reform so as to enable faster and cheaper infrastructure construction in Ontario. 

One interesting idea that the Ford government might explore as part of a quality-of-life conservatism is reforming the province’s student grants such that children start to receive provincial contributions into a post-secondary savings account even before they’re ready to apply for university or college. Evidence shows that pushing up access to public post-secondary subsidies can lead to higher rates of eventual enrolment and attainment.Post-Secondary Access: Jennifer Robson on Better Life Chances for Ontario’s Children https://on360.ca/policy-papers/post-secondary-access/ The Ford government should experiment with such a model in the name of greater social mobility. 

A more controversial pillar would be to return to the government’s previous attempts at reforming the province’s system of social assistance. Presently too many recipients languish on Ontario Works, which has basically become a program of perpetual and inadequate sustenance rather than a catapult into stable employment. Programmatic reforms (including for instance clarifying eligibility between Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program) could then enable the government to strengthen core support for those who remain on disability benefits. 

There are no doubt various other policy areas and reforms (including Labour Minister Monte McNaughton’s highly ambitious agenda) that fit under the auspices of a quality-of-life conservatism. The key at this stage is to erect some philosophical scaffolding around such an agenda before starting to build out a comprehensive set of policies. The Ford government’s upcoming Speech from the Throne is a key opportunity to begin this heavy lifting. 

The Premier and his team should see it as a moment to articulate the basis of a quality-of-life conservatism in order to bring expression to their impressive yet ill-defined electoral mandate. Improving the quality of life of Ontarians is a mandate worth winning for.

Stephen Nagy: Canada’s Indo-Pacific absence leaves us on the outside looking in

Commentary

When U.S. President Joe Biden announced the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) during his recent visit to Tokyo,Biden rolls out alternative to traditional trade pact in Indo-Pacific, aim is countering China https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2022/05/23/biden-japan-president-roll-out-alternative-trade-pact-indo-pacific/9830955002/ conspicuously missing from the participants was Canada. 

The absence is not an exception, but a pattern. Canada is also not part of the Quad,Checking China: What is the Quad alliance?
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/checking-china-what-is-the-quad-alliance/articleshow/91757226.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst
the AUKUS agreement,Aukus: What is the new defence pact between Australia, Britain and the US? https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/aukus-pact-australia-britain-us-b1921897.html nor does it have a free trade agreement with ASEAN.Canada and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/asean/index.aspx?lang=eng Strikingly, unlike Denmark, Germany, the EU, Japan, ASEAN, Australia, India, and the U.S., Canada does not have an Indo-Pacific strategy. 

Many in the international community (and at home) are asking: Where is Canada? Why the absence?   

The immediate explanation on the political side will be that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has monopolized the Trudeau government’s diplomatic bandwidth. In reality, however, Canada has not been forward-leaning when it comes to an Indo-Pacific strategy. Close partners see the current government as unfocused on the Indo-Pacific, fixated on progressive policies at home and abroad, and sometimes simply unreliable.  

Trudeau’s last-minute no-show at the Trans-Pacific Partnership signing in Vietnam in 2017, his poor choices when visiting India, and his advocacy of progressive trade policy with China can be seen as examples of a leader with poor judgment on issues that matter to the Indo-Pacific. This has damaged Canadian credibility abroad, resulting in Canada not being the second or even third choice for new mini-lateral relationships like the Quad, AUKUS, or IPEF. 

Canadians should be concerned about our absence from partnerships like IPEF, a standard-setting economic framework meant to shape trade rules in the region. Despite the great work of our diplomats, Ottawa has not shown a “first mover” position like others in IPEF. Being excluded means Canada has no voice in setting the agenda for the framework, and that we ultimately come to the table with someone else’s rules already in place. 

Trudeau is correct to say that IPEF is a compromise framework by the Biden administration for the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cptpp-ptpgp/index.aspx?lang=eng Yet they are not the same. IPEF is not a trade agreement but rather a standard-setting framework, intended to shape the evolution of trade rules rather than open market access.  

The U.S. understands that those who shape the rules will be able to protect their economic interests, establishing standards of governance for trade and the limits of the role of government in economies. Given Canada’s absence, Canadian businesses will likely have to play by rules the current IPEF members agree on. 

Canada’s IPEF absence may be related to Ottawa’s soon-to-be-released Indo-Pacific strategy, but that simply begs the question of why have we lacked such a strategy for the past five years? Many countries that don’t even border the region have official Indo-Pacific documents or are crafting their own Indo-Pacific strategy. 

Canadian diplomats in the region, defence officials, and members of the Privy Council understand the need for such a strategy. However, at the political level, the leadership and prioritization have not been there. 

In an era when trade and security are inseparable, the urgency of an Indo-Pacific strategy becomes more salient. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how non-traditional security issues like a transnational disease can destabilize economies and societies. We have also seen economic coercion and the weaponization of commerce against Canada and its allies as examples of how trade can affect a country’s economic security. 

Canada’s geographic distance from China has not saved us from learning these lessons, but we have yet to craft policies to adapt to this new reality. The country needs to balance between an expanding footprint in Indo-Pacific and relations with China. This should be based on a clear understanding that China is part of the Indo-Pacific but is not the Indo-Pacific.  

Canada needs to be inclusive in its Indo-Pacific approach, working with like-minded allies and partners such as the U.S., Japan, Australia, South Korea, India, Singapore, and Taiwan. This should include standard-setting through the IPEF. 

Having a free trade agreement with ASEAN would also further embed Canada into the region, as would a pragmatic ambition in Canada’s approach to India.  

However, China must be on the table not just in terms of trade, but also in working with partners through multilateral agreements like the CPTPP to try to shape China’s long-term behaviour. Canada cannot do this alone, which is why a focused, multilateral and forward-leaning approach to the Indo-Pacific—through such groupings as IPEF and the Quad—is sorely needed.