Premier Doug Ford has signalled that improving health care, continuing Ontario’s jobs boom, and “balancing the budget in a responsible manner” will be his government’s top priorities this year.
In a New Year’s letter to Ontario’s 68,000 public servants sent Monday, Ford thanked them for “providing consistent, high-quality, non-partisan professional advice” as the Progressive Conservatives took power last June after almost 15 years of Liberal rule.
“Any time there is a change in government there are new demands placed on each of you to ensure a seamless transition and encourage effective policy making without disrupting any of the government’s core services,” the premier wrote in his missive signed “Doug.”
“With your support, we have been moving forward at a lightning pace,” he continued, emphasizing the Tories “came into office with a clear blueprint” to cut taxes, “clean up Ontario’s hydro mess … and take steps to end hallway health care.”
Ford told bureaucrats that “we have a lot of work ahead of us in 2019.”
The premier said Health Minister Christine Elliott is working hard to protect the province’s medicare system.
“Our government will continue to ensure necessary funding for world-class health care in Ontario, but this issue must be about more than money,” he said.
“It will also be about embracing change and innovation, deploying technology more effectively, and committing to new models of collaboration and patient care.”
While he did not mention the government’s fractious relationship with Ontario’s doctors, who also sparred over compensation with previous Liberal administrations, he praised “our incredible nurses, doctors and frontline health-care professionals.”
As well, Ford, who campaigned on making the equivalent of $6 billion in budget cuts though he has promised “not one” job would be eliminated, warned austerity measures loom as the Tories tackle a $14.5-billion shortfall.
“If we allow this deficit to continue to fester and grow, it will end up imperiling our hospitals, schools and other public services. We cannot allow this to happen,” he wrote.
“The good news is that, with your support and under the leadership of (Finance Minister)… Vic Fedeli and (Treasury Board President) Peter Bethlenfalvy, our government has already taken a number of measures to restore fiscal discipline to Ontario.”
Despite the imminent end of General Motors Canada’s historic manufacturing of vehicles in Oshawa, Ford said “the positive job-creation numbers we saw in December should be encouraging to us all.”
“We know opportunities are out there. Indeed, whenever I travel the province I hear from prospective employers who are desperate to bring on more workers,” he wrote.
Ford said that Economic Development Minister Todd Smith would be working with bureaucrats to “connect more workers to good paying jobs while encouraging job creation, investment and trade both inside and outside of Canada.”
He heralded the Tories for “eliminating the cap-and-trade carbon tax,” Ontario’s environmental alliance with Quebec and California, which led to higher gasoline and natural gas prices while bringing in $1.9 billion to the treasury.
But that has now exposed the province to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon “backstop,” which the Tories are spending $30 million to fight with a constitutional court challenge.
The premier closed his letter to civil servants by hailing their retiring boss, Steve Orsini, the secretary of cabinet, who leaves later this month after 27 years of public service.
“Steve played a key role in ensuring our government could set such an ambitious pace throughout 2018 and I will certainly miss his counsel, strategic insights and understanding of how the government of Ontario touches people’s lives,” he wrote.
“I want you to know that a thorough search for Steve’s successor is already underway and we will share an update with you shortly.”
Sources have told the Star that the front-runner to succeed Orsini is deputy attorney general Paul Boniferro.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie