Will the next PC leader maintain Brown’s Wynne 2.0 platform?

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Appeared in the Ottawa Sun, January 31, 2018

It’s not yet clear who will lead the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario into the next election. The party first decided to hold a full-blown leadership race, but there’s been recent pushback from party members to wait until after the election to choose a new leader.

Given the way that modern Westminster-style parliamentary democracy works, whoever the PC Party ultimately selects as its new leader will exert substantial influence on the party’s public policy in the future. The party’s official platform may not change between now and the election, but the new leader will play a big role in determining how the party governs if elected.

To date, the PC Party has been in large measure promising continuity, suggesting it would pursue an approach very similar to that of the governing Liberals.

On taxes, the PC platform promises no reforms that would significantly improve the province’s competitiveness or do much to boost business investment or economic growth. It does not commit to lower the province’s 53.5 per cent top combined federal/provincial income tax rate, which is among the highest in North America, and makes no mention of reducing the province’s general corporate income tax rate.

The fiscal plans presented in the party’s platform also suggest that a new PC government would essentially follow the current government’s lead when it comes to the size of government in the province. Since the Liberal government came to power in the early 2000s, the provincial government has grown from 15.1 per cent of all economic activity in Ontario to 17.8 per cent. The PC platform calls for a slight reversal of this trend, suggesting the size of government should shrink back to 17.0 per cent by 2021-2022—still meaningfully higher than a decade and a half ago.

The story is similar when it comes to the minimum wage. The PC platform promises to maintain the 20 per cent increase to the minimum wage implemented this year by the Wynne government, and to gradually increase the minimum wage a further dollar to $15 over four years. This is only a slight tweak to the current government’s minimum wage plan announced last year.

In the forthcoming leadership race, if indeed one is held, one of the most important big-picture questions for all candidates will be whether they agree with the approach of essentially carrying on the Wynne government’s policies or, alternatively, if they believe the province would benefit from a more fundamental shift in policy direction.

Over the past 15 years, Ontario has, on average, experienced significantly weaker economic growth than the rest of the country. The province has fallen to have-not status within Confederation and now relies on equalization payments and questionable accounting methods to balance its books. Meanwhile, business investment remains weak and the provincial debt has exploded.

Despite these worrying realities, neither the sitting government nor the official Opposition has, as of yet, presented a clear vision for a fundamentally different approach to public policy designed to help restore Ontario to its historical place as one of Canada’s strongest provincial economies. It remains to be seen whether the next permanent leader of the PC Party, whoever it may be, will present such a vision for Ontario.

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