Living in interesting times; what the election result means for Ontario's environment and cleantech companies
Well, that was interesting. All across Ontario, political watchers are waking up this morning to the news that the McGuinty government has been reelected, but with just 53 seats, leaving them one seat short of a majority. This gives Ontario its first minority government in decades.
What will this mean for Ontario’s environment and cleantech sector? While it is far too early to speculate about concrete policy changes and legislative directions, we offer the following six observations on the results:
We will have a new Environment Minister. The Hon. John Wilkinson was defeated in his riding of Perth Wellington by Tory candidate Randy Pettapiece, a result that the Globe and Mail attributed partially to opposition to “…the Liberals’ wind turbine plans.” With former responsibility for the Innovation portfolio, Minister Wilkinson was a supporter of our industry and was always interested in a dialogue about our concerns. When the Premier unveils a new cabinet in the coming week, his choice of Minister will say much about the priority the new government places upon the environment.
The pace of policy change could slow considerably. Over the past eight years of Liberal majority rule, the government pushed through a huge volume of policy on a number of fronts – particularly the environment. Within a short amount of time, we saw initiatives such as the Green Energy Act, cosmetic pesticide ban, the introduction of eco fees and, most recently the Water Opportunities Act, just to name a few. This pace could slow considerably, given that the government will have to secure opposition support for any major changes to the status quo.
The Green Energy Act may be safe, for now. Premier McGuinty took considerable heat throughout the campaign for what Tim Hudak called his “hairbrained energy schemes.” There was also considerable rural opposition, as noted, in key areas to windpower development. While it is highly unlikely that the NDP and PCs would collaborate to force through significant changes to the Act, the Liberals would do well to consider some small changes to their approach, particularly with their strategy to engage rural areas in community-based power development.
Pro-business initiatives should continue. Moves by the Liberals to reduce and simplify the corporate tax burden, modernize the environmental approvals process and its overall “Open for Business” effort should continue – but with one possible issue looming on the horizon. As the government sits down to craft a budget, it may have to moderate its commitment to continue corporate tax reductions to win NDP support.
The looming economic crisis may trump all platforms. While StatsCan job creation numbers released today showed a fairly healthy trend across the country, Ontario will likely not escape the looming impact of the EU and US fiscal crises. If the global economy takes a downward turn in the coming months, all of the discussion of new policies during the election (e.g. a 30% tuition cut) may have been for naught, as the province tackles an estimated $14-billion deficit in a time of possibly declining tax revenues.
It’s time for a growth and jobs agenda. Given the previous point on the economic challenges facing the province, it may be time for the new government to focus on a much clearer pro-business, pro-growth agenda. One of the criticisms that hurt the Liberals during the campaign was that the party could readily enunciate a long-term vision for the province (education, innovation, renewable energy) but often lacked practical measures that resonated with voters. This could be a rare place for the new government to find common ground with the Tories, if it were to focus on a renewed agenda to encourage growth and jobs creation.
ONEIA will be watching these and other issues very closely in the coming months. We will begin this conversation with a special breakfast panel discussion to further review the election and its impact on our sector. Join us for a special breakfast session on Thursday, October 20 when a panel of industry and business experts will review the results and offer their predictions for the months and years to come.
And if you are an ONEIA member and would like to help craft our strategy to engage the new minority government, come out to an Advocacy Committee meeting! To receive more information, please contact Marjan in our office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Gill is the Executive Director of ONEIA and can be reached at email@example.com or through LinkedIn.