Last-day-of-school energy at Queen’s Park

In our first edition of Political Climate, The Narwhal’s Ontario election newsletter, we try to make sense of a budget that may not be a budget after all

For politicians — and journalists — election campaigns are a hectic time, full of adrenalin, last-minute scrambling and lots of gossip. 

Doug Ford is finally going to make it official: he’ll be calling an election for June 2, kicking off four weeks during which candidates will be wooing voters with promises of a better Ontario. 

But for reporters Emma McIntosh and Fatima Syed, election season started last Thursday, when the Ford government released its budget. The tradition is that journalists get to see budgets in the morning before the public release in the afternoon, so that they can write same-day stories to explain it. 

The rules, Emma says, “are super strict — we aren’t even allowed to take the document into the hallway before the embargo lifts at about 4 p.m.” 

The duo sped through the 241-page document in 90 minutes, scribbled a first draft, ran out to ask politicians some questions, then added in quotes while also addressing my edits and talking to The Narwhal’s art director Shawn Parkinson about making a cool graphic to go with it.

A collage of industry and cars, with overlaid text reading "Mr Speaker. This budget. Our budget. Ontario's budget."

And we made our deadline, publishing their story minutes after the embargo lifted. Here’s Fatima and Emma’s take on a budget that shares lots of plans to build up highways and very few to bring down emissions. 

This Ontario budget is really more of a campaign document than a fiscal plan, since the Progressive Conservatives won’t be able to implement it unless they win re-election. Budget day was everyone’s last time together at Queen’s Park for a while, which made it even buzzier than normal, Emma says. 

“The funniest thing about this particular budget was the last-day-of-school energy. I watched as the MPPs cheerily signed each other’s budget documents as if they were yearbooks,” she says. 

Since we started the Ontario bureau last September, we’ve given The Narwhal Treatment™️ to the Progressive Conservative government’s environmental record. We’re the only news outlet that’s profiled environment minister David Piccini, the youngest person ever to lead the department and the face of the government’s climate action — and inaction. But he wouldn’t talk to us about his most recent climate plan, which might not be a plan at all (for more on that, listen to Fatima on The Big Story podcast). 

Other parties also need to convince Ontario voters they care about the environment. There are three opposition leaders looking to unseat Ford, and we’ve already put their environmental promises through a thorough stress test, too.

Photos of Steven Del Duca, Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner
The opposition: Liberal Party leader Steven Del Duca, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner are all challenging Doug Ford in the 2022 Ontario election. Photos: Del Duca by Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal; Horwath and Schreiner by Ramona Leitao / The Narwhal

Since 2018, the Official Opposition has been the NDP, led by Andrea Horwath. Her party unveiled its climate plan a year ago, but as Fatima Syed reports, internal division might be eating away at her ability to become premier and pass it. 

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca doesn’t even have a seat at Queen’s Park. He promised Emma McIntosh that if he wins, he’ll stand up to industry — a pledge that isn’t backed up by a climate plan, because his party doesn’t have one yet.  

Emma also talked to Mike Schreiner, currently the Green Party leader as well as its entire caucus. Schreiner’s goal is for his party to snag more than one seat this time around, but he said even a solo MPP can make a difference on the environment file. 

None of the opposition leaders had anything good to say about last week’s budget. “The fact there’s no environment chapter in this budget shows us that Ford’s primary issue around the environment is paving it over,” Schreiner said.

But is this budget really the budget a re-elected Ford government would pass? Read on to find out. 

Go dig out your old yearbooks and I’ll see you next week,  

Denise Balkissoon
Ontario bureau chief

Illustrated title in comic book style: "Fact check of the week."

Is this budget the actual budget?

Budget day ended in a whirl of confusion over whether the financial plan introduced by the Progressive Conservatives is the actual budget that will define how Ontario spends its money for the next year. So, is it? 

The short answer is, we don’t know. 

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: the government introduces a budget, then MPPs vote and typically pass it. But this time, the government unveiled the document a week before dissolving the legislature and heading out on the campaign trail — and didn’t actually pass it. “We’ll get the people of Ontario to vote on that budget,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said.

The winning party will have to pass a budget once it forms government, but technically speaking, the Progressive Conservatives don’t have to bring back the same budget if re-elected. That caused a bit of hubbub last week. When questioned by reporters, Bethlenfalvy repeatedly refused to commit to reintroducing the same document if his party wins. 

Soon afterwards, though, the Ford government promised to keep its financial plan the same if it wins a second term. And of course, if another party wins, the budget will be a totally different beast. We’ll find out for sure sometime after June 2. — Emma

Note from a Narwhal

A piping plover pair on Sauble Beach.
Photo: Merri-Lee Metzger

“I like The Narwhal because you give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves — like the plover.”

Lynda Whitaker was so impressed with Fatima’s coverage of the piping plovers of Sauble Beach, Ont., that she decided to step up and become a Narwhal member. And she wasn’t the only one: “I’ve been very impressed by your reporting, especially the recent article on piping plovers,” fellow new Narwhal Joel Geier wrote. Will you join Lynda, Joel and more than 4,200 other readers who support our non-profit journalism?

Illustrated title in comic book style: "ELXN SZN EXTRAS."
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A GIF of Emma McIntosh swiveling in a chair with the Ontario budget document in her hand.

When you’ve got that last-day-of-school energy. Tell your classmates to kick off election season by reading and subscribing to Political Climate.

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We’re investigating Ontario’s environmental cuts
The Narwhal’s Ontario bureau is telling stories you won’t find anywhere else. Keep up with the latest scoops by signing up for a weekly dose of our independent journalism.