The leadership of our province changed dramatically last night after a raucous election campaign that was more about legacy and personality than policy. The defining issue of the election was “time for a change” after 15 years of Liberal government. As a result, the people of Ontario gave a large majority to the Progressive Conservatives and a strong official Opposition led by the NDP.
For Ontarians, the leadership change and the votes that supported it are politically significant in how they will translate into influence at Queen’s Park and on important matters like two-way, all-day GO train service, support for scaling companies, government procurement and other programs.
Staying true to the area’s typical provincial form, Waterloo Region continues to have representatives from the governing party and the official Opposition. Amy Fee, Mike Harris Jr. and Belinda Karahalios will become this region’s voice in government. One of them will also likely play an important role in Premier-elect Doug Ford’s government as one of the few urban representatives in Southwestern Ontario – a consideration that is weighed when Cabinet decisions are made. NDP MPPs Catherine Fife and Laura Mae Lindo will play the traditional role of the Opposition and keep the new government accountable.
Beyond the numbers, for those who awoke this morning and wondered what is next for your startup or scaling company with this new government, here are a few things you should know and think about in the days ahead.
It takes time to transition to a new government
Premier-elect Ford has a transition team in place and the Progressive Conservatives have been preparing to form government for months. Briefing binders for the incoming premier and ministers have been prepared by civil servants and transition team members, but no amount of preparation will ready any party for the mountainous task of forming government.
The new Premier will immediately want to audit the state of the provincial books, Cabinet ministers will need to be named, and then there is the hiring of 500+ staffers who will support the political machinery of government.
The Legislature might be brought back quickly to address the York University strike and perhaps one other key platform pledge, but then it will return to setting up.
This is a crazy time that follows the same rules that apply to approaching a parent of their first child – say congratulations and stay the heck out of the way until they have had a good night’s sleep, begun to cope with enormous change, and feel they have acclimatized to the new normal.
Speak before the horse leaves the barn
A lot of serious issues are raised during elections, but former prime minister Kim Campbell expressed it directly on point when she said, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.”
As the dust settles from what was essentially a visionless campaign, it is important to know what the serious issues are that could impact you and to begin to develop an opinion on them. There is an experienced transition team in place but the MPPs are new and they might not know exactly how your issues translate from print in a platform to reality on the ground. It is a mistake to assume differently, as we saw play out just after the 2015 federal election on the stock options issue, when people like Shopify’s Tobias Lutke and others sounded the alarm.
On items that impact technology companies, the new government has signalled that there will be significant changes on how business support programs work. What is left in the Jobs and Prosperity Fund will be re-allocated to other government priorities. Business support programs for Ontario will focus on domestic startup and scaling companies primarily using Regional Economic Development Funds. There is no detail yet on how this will actually work, and the new minister, when appointed, will ideally be open to hearing from you on what is working and what has not worked in past programs.
Another big item in the PC Plan for the People was the announcement that they will centralize procurement – are there any companies in this ecosystem that might be able to help them with that? If the government is changing how it procures products and services, what do you want to say about helping innovative companies sell into government?
The time is now to start making notes so that you are ready to speak when the new government is ready to listen and before the horse has left the barn on an issue.
Local MPPs matter
Finally, our last piece of advice is that your local MPPs, regardless of political stipe, are your best advocates at Queen’s Park. Get to know them and help them to understand your issues and how they affect you, the innovation ecosystem and your local community.
The leader and his Cabinet make the decisions, but the local perspective is always sought from MPPs of the governing party before moving forward with items. It is best to bring your local MPPs into your requests to government early and keep them and their teams up to date on funding applications or other proposals. This advice holds for both the MPPs that are part of the Government as well as the Opposition.
In sum, Ontario has voted to take this province a new direction with Doug Ford at the helm. Our advice is to work with his team as they navigate their future course for Ontario.
Julie Garner, a Principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group, spent 15 years working in government, mostly as a senior political staff member to provincial cabinet ministers. She advises post-secondary institutions, technology companies and infrastructure related clients.
Stella Ambler has 30 years of experience in community activism, party politics and campaigns. She has served in key roles at the provincial and federal levels, including four years as Member of Parliament for Mississauga South (Conservative). At Earnscliffe, Stella works with clients in the public and not-for-profit sectors and focuses on strategy and relationship-building in her work. Stella was recently elected as the Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Mississauga-Lakeshore for the October 2019 election. Her current focus is on helping clients transition to the new PC government at Queen’s Park.
Kathleen Monk is a communications and campaign strategist with more than 15 years of experience in media, politics and the not-for-profit sector. At Earnscliffe, she works with clients with a wide range of public policy and communication needs, including post-secondary institutions.