Describing the world as it is and crafting a serious response to that world has not been the priority of any of Ontario's three political parties for some time. The last general election demonstrated this fact. All three parties chose not to mention the fiscal disorder of the province and how it threatens our prosperity and the quality of the services the province provides. The government punted this important issue to Don Drummond – his report, obviously scheduled for release after the election.
Of the three major parties, only one appears to have finally decided to grapple with reality. Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservative Party have released a number of interesting, innovative and occasionally controversial policies that seriously attempt to respond to the problems facing the province. It is unclear whether there is much room for ideas over rhetoric in a media-dominated political landscape, but for those who believe a politics of ideas is crucial for the future of the province, the PC Party policy papers are a good place to start. Here is a list of the most impressive policies to date.
Social impact bonds
Through a Social Impact Bond, private investment is used to pay for programs, which are delivered by non-government service providers with proven successes in preventive interventions (for instance, recidivism). Financial returns to investors are made by the government on the basis of improved social outcomes. If outcomes do not improve, investors do not recover their investment (see this excellent McKinsey & Company video explaining the concept). The vehicle originated in the UK but has now crossed the Atlantic and has been embraced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. This policy has the potential to inject new approaches into a public service delivery model that has not seen innovation in decades.
Rebuilding public infrastructure through partnering with pension funds
It is clear that Ontario faces a huge infrastructure backlog. Old roads and bridges need to be repaired. New energy assets need to be built. The infrastructure deficit is estimated to be in the hundreds of billions in this province. We will only overcome this backlog through innovations in both governance and finance. Pension funds and sovereign wealth funds are particularly well-suited to long-term investing. Toronto based pension funds are some of the most advanced pools of investment capital in the world. Many of them pioneered direct infrastructure investing. Yet, they continually fail to invest in Canadian infrastructure projects. Several Ontario based funds have called for Ontario to allow pension funds to collaborate and recapitalize our aging infrastructure. Allowing them to do so would open a conduit to billions in new infrastructure investment.
A concrete growth agenda
The PC Party has developed a comprehensive theory of growth that includes: tax cuts; the elimination of corporate subsidies and the redirection of these funds towards broad-based tax relief; infrastructure investment, including subways in the GTA; the promotion of free trade by knocking down trade barriers between Ontario and the western provinces; and comprehensive labour reform. Their plan to decrease the deficit will result in a smaller government, but their commitment to increasing incentives for the public sector and implementing open tendering could produce better public services at the same time.
It is clear that the provincial Tories are unabashedly pro growth, believing that the best way to ensure a stable, prosperous province is through a healthy economy and not an ever growing state. Although the other parties have yet to produce their party policies and the Tories have only introduced a series of non-binding "white papers," the province can hope that an election about ideas is finally approaching at this important moment in Ontario history.
J.C. Bourque is a business strategy consultant in Toronto. He has worked on several campaigns for the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.