Sources close to the Ontario government expect the budget to be tabled shortly before the election is called, with no time for a budget bill to be passed.
The move is politically driven and would allow the Progressive Conservatives to use the budget as a campaign platform, sources say.
Premier Doug Ford's government is planning to table its 2022 budget in the last sitting week of April, three sources close to the government, who aren't connected to each other, told QP Briefing.
QP Briefing promised anonymity to sources sharing sensitive information for this story. The timing of the budget and its specifics are always closely guarded secrets by the government.
The province's scheduled election date is June 2, with the writs of election drawn up May 4, starting the campaign. Ford could prompt an earlier election but has said he is not considering doing so.
By introducing its budget in late April, the PC government would likely not have time to pass a budget measures bill.
Two of the aforementioned sources, and a fourth close to the government, said this plan could change if PC leadership — either in government or in the campaign — are compelled by an unforeseen political gain of tabling it sooner.
One of the political considerations behind the PCs' plan, according to sources, is making sure it is fresher in voters' minds by election day. And by not passing supporting legislation, it would be easier for the party to add promises made on the campaign trail, sources said. It also allows the party to pitch its platform like other parties do — trying to win voters based on promises, instead of existing plans.
The operations of Ontario's ministries and agencies won't be markedly impacted by the budget being delayed until after the election. If the PC government proceeds as planned, whichever party wins the election will have to recall the Ontario legislature quickly after the vote to pass a budget.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy's spokesperson Emily Hogeveen said: "I can confirm that the province has not yet set a date for the 2022 Budget to be released."
The PC government has been laying the groundwork for this plan for months.
The government hinted at their intentions by using legislation to remove fines Ford and Bethlenfalvy would receive for introducing the budget later than March 31 — an annual deadline the PCs set earlier in their mandate. Bill 84's passage delayed the tabling deadline until April 30, which is less than a week before the election campaign must begin. The budget is not required by law to be passed by a specific date.
Hogeveen has said the government would announce when it's tabling its budget about two weeks ahead of time. Based on her promise and the parliamentary calendar, if the government rethinks its plan, the soonest it would introduce the budget is in the sitting week of April 11 to 14, affording the government 11 scheduled sitting days — at most — to pass it.
Bethlenfalvy plans to speak at a C.D. Howe Institute event on April 11. The C.D. Howe Institute said in an email they weren't told when budget day was.
Good Friday begins Easter weekend on April 15. MPPs are not scheduled to sit the following week.
After Easter, the only sitting days planned before the government's end-of-month deadline to introduce the budget are April 25 to April 28.
April 25 is the seventh-last sitting day before the election. Ford's budget measures bills from 2019, 2020 and 2021 all took longer than a month to pass and required at least 12 sitting days. Another eight hours of debate time is allocated to the budget motion.
The fastest Ford's government has passed a bill without other parties' support — which it is unlikely to get for its budget — was in four sitting days. In that instance, the PC government recalled the legislature for weekend sittings and shortened debate using time allocation to pass Bill 307, which used the notwithstanding clause to controversially reinstate election advertising laws that an Ontario judge struck down.
Ontario's ministries and agencies aren't interrupted by the budget being passed late because they're afforded funding in the previous fall economic statement to cover much of the upcoming fiscal year.
It's not rare in Canada for an election to be called because a minority government fails to pass its budget. Former premier Kathleen Wynne called an election in 2014 when Ontario's NDP made clear they wouldn't support the minority Liberals' budget. Wynne's Liberals won a majority.
A move like the majority PC government is planning is unusual, since they could pass a budget if they wanted to and allotted itself enough time.
In 2018, Wynne's government introduced its budget and the budget measures bill to implement it in late March. Its budget bill passed and received royal assent on May 8, 2018. Wynne announced that same day that the writs for the election would be issued the next day, starting the campaign that brought Ford's PC government into power.
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