Category Archives: Poverty

The Ontario election and the future of the NDP

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by Barry Weisleder
Conservative leader Tim Hudak got exactly what he deserved. On June 12 Ontario voters rejected his plan to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs and to gut the unions.
For the most part, labour’s campaign to stop Hudak worked. The Tories were trounced at the polls, reduced to 28 seats and 31 per cent of the ballots cast. Hudak announced he’d step down when his party picks a replacement leader. But members of his caucus forced him to quit sooner. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy!
However, this anti-Hudak sentiment translated into a Liberal majority. It’s hard to celebrate four more years of Bay Street’s preferred party. It’s hard to celebrate an electoral system that rewards a party that got less than 39 per cent of the votes cast, only about 19 per cent of the eligible electorate, with a majority of seats (58 of 107) in the Ontario Legislature.
The union-based New Democratic Party, on the other hand, lost the little power it had – despite increasing its vote share by 1 per cent (to 24 per cent) and retaining a seat total of 21. It would have done better had it pulled the plug on Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne one year earlier. But the NDP did manage to pick up seats and consolidate its hold in the areas hardest hit by recession. In St. Catherines, in Hamilton (although NDP Leader Andrea Horwath did lose votes in her own riding), in London, Niagara, Oshawa and Windsor Essex regions the party had seat gains or vote increases. Still, the NDP lost three seats and major ground in Toronto.
The voter turnout was barely 51 per cent, a three per cent improvement from the 2011 provincial election, but a dismal result by any standard.
Key to the disappointment was the NDP’s feckless effort. Worse than losing ‘an electoral gamble’, Andrea Horwath waged the worst NDP campaign since Bob Rae attempted to defend his infamous Social Contract in 1995.
Horwath had no mandate to veer to the right of the Liberal Party in a vain attempt to appeal to 20120624-092713-gConservative supporters and the business class. She had no mandate to abandon the fight for social justice in favour of a crass appeal to consumerism.
The NDP platform emphasized “making life more affordable” by removing the HST from electricity bills, reducing car insurance rates by 15%, opening up a few more child care spaces, shortening hospital wait times, and offering a mere $1 increase in the hourly minimum wage. At the same time, Horwath campaigned to continue the practice of bribing big private corporations to create jobs – without demanding any public ownership or democratic control of state investment.
Horwath projected a small increase in corporate taxation, but no plan to conscript the hidden, un-taxed billions of dollars – what a former head of the Bank of Canada calls ‘dead Capital’. That means the NDP proposed no way to fund a serious assault on poverty, on homelessness, or to end the deeping crises in public transit, education and health care.
Horwath and her strategists said nothing about phasing out nuclear power plants, stopping Line 9, satisfying the just claims of indigenous peoples, curtailing state surveillance, and terminating police repression of the kind that was unleashed during the G-20 Summit in Toronto. There was not even a hint that the problems faced today by the vast majority of Ontarions are rooted in the decaying and increasingly destructive capitalist system — much less that the solution is socialist democracy.
The ONDP Leader campaigned on ‘integrity’. But she failed to reduce her own democratic deficit. She ignored a party convention decision to be tougher on the Ontario Liberal budget of 2012/13. In fact, on her watch, party conventions provide less time for policy debate. And Horwath’s Election Planning Committee undemocratically prevents leftists from being NDP candidates.
o-KATHLEEN-WYNNE-TIM-HUDAK-facebookWhile it is gratifying that the Progressive Conservatives lost big time, it is clear that the capitalist austerity agenda continues vigorously under Premier Wynne. Remember, Wynne bragged during the TV leaders’ debate that she had implemented “80 per cent of the Drummond Report” — a harsh austerity plan. Behind Wynne’s affable smile, the locomotive of the rulers’ public sector wage freeze, social cutbacks, 3Ps, and privatization remains firmly on track.
Corporate Ontario found a way to sanitize its brutal anti-working class agenda by hiding it behind the ‘progressive’ veneer of the province’s first female Premier, also Canada’s first lesbian Premier.
Now New Democrats, labour unionists, feminists, LGBTQ folks, environmentalists, socialists and social justice advocates must fight to take the NDP from the latter-day Blairites, and re-direct the party to lead the battle against capitalist austerity, and for socialist solutions to the mounting problems we face.
That starts with the demand that Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath resign immediately. It’s time for a full review of the party’s leadership and political direction, leading up to its November 14-16 convention in Toronto.
The question of Horwath’s future as ONDP leader is posed daily in the mass media. The Socialist Caucus did not initiate this question, but it does have the opportunity to rally opinion behind a concrete proposal. Robin Sears and Brian Topp have written articles in defense of Horwath. Dave Cooke, former NDP Education Minister, Gerry Caplan, Paul Ferriera, Michael Prue, even Rosario Marchese have sharply criticized her. For socialists, the main issue is not personality; it is the need for a full review of the leadership and political direction of the party.
But how do we get it?
This is not an abstract matter. A full review is triggered by a vote of non-confidence in the leader. A confidence vote occurs at every party convention. If even 35% of the delegates vote for a leadership review (that is, if less than 65% vote to support the current leader), in all likelihood a leadership race will ensue.
It is clear that such a vote would open up a period of intense discussion about the future of the NDP.
So, what should socialists and labour activists do?
Should we just wait to see what happens, and in the meantime conduct ‘business as usual’ by submitting resolutions to the Convention, knowing full well that party officials will ensure that few of our resolutions ever make it to the floor?
This is where a bold initiative is needed – to galvanize the widespread discontent in the party and its voter base by posing a concrete course of action: Demand that Andrea resign, and insist that a full review of the political direction of the party take place now.
Is there a risk that such a demand may upset a section of the membership? Well, yes, but which section of members is likely to be offended? Will it be supporters of the openly critical letter of the 34 prominent present and former NDPers? Or that part of the labour section which openly broke with Andrea the day the election was called? Or the mass of party members who were so dissatisfied with Andrea’s campaign that they did not participate in it?
Of course, there is the segment, including party staff and paid canvassers, who heartily support making the NDP the New Liberal Party – but the left has few prospects among them.
Naturally, the removal of Andrea is no guarantee that another MPP in the top job will change direction.
But what are the chances if the party ranks, including the SC, do not demand this? It would only help Horwath and her team of handlers and fixers to weather the storm.
Our task is to ‘fan the flames of discontent.’ On what basis should we demand a full review of the r-BARRY-WEISLEDER-NDP-large570political direction of the party, starting with the demand that the Leader resign? It should be done on the basis that there was no mandate to turn right; indeed, that to survive the NDP must turn sharply to the left.
What should be said to those who argue that it’s time to launch a new electoral party of the left? Stand up and fight for your principles – but fight where it really matters. Don’t retreat into a fantasy world.
What is the record of new left-party initiatives in English Canada?
It ranges from tragedy to farce. The Waffle movement had 10,000 NDP supporters in the early 1970s. But within three years of its departure from the NDP, it had disappeared. The Campaign for an Activist Party, and later the New Politics Initiative, led by Svend Robinson and Judy Rebick in the 1990s, were top-down, undemocratic structures that gave up the fight and disappeared. Four years ago a small body of dissident NDPers launched the Ginger Group. After a brief polemic, it quit the NDP and launched the Socialist Party of Ontario. In 2011 it ran three candidates. On June 12, 2014 the SPO ran only two candidates. The Communist Party of Canada ran 11 candidates on a left-reformist platform. None of those ‘left’ candidates got more than 200 votes. The NDP got 1.1 million votes, with no support from big business. Most of its votes came from working people in heavily working class districts.
Then there is the left-populist or anarchist perspective. It says “Just ignore the NDP”. The problem with that is many-fold. It is economist. It leaves the struggle for bread and butter improvements at the front door of the Legislature. It is anti-political, or at best, a stunted form of politics. Worst of all, it gives the present leadership of the working class a free hand to continue the sell-out. That includes so-called strategic voting, which favours the Liberal Party. We saw what that means when Gerry Dias, the President of UNIFOR, was shown on TV at the Liberal victory party congratulating Kathleen Wynne.
The NDP is the only mass, labour-based political party in North America. To understand the significance of that, just look at politics in the United States. The NDP remains a workers’ party, which is obvious to anyone who has been to an NDP convention. But the NDP has a staunchly pro-capitalist leadership which is out of step with reality, that is, seemingly oblivious to the extremely destructive decline of late capitalism.
The struggle for a Workers’ Agenda will take place in the NDP, as it will take place in the unions. Not exclusively there, but there too.
The battle against capitalist austerity continues. Quickly the Toronto Star warned Wynne to renege on her ‘progressive’ promises and instead to reduce the deficit – “to avoid a credit-rating downgrade.” The Star asks, “Will Wynne play Hudak-lite and cut public service jobs or government spending?” It darkly predicts “confrontations with public sector unions.”
Let’s hope that there will be confrontations – arising from resistence to the coming cuts. Let’s hope that union leaders don’t declare victory over Hudak and then go to sleep, as they did when the Bob Rae-led Ontario NDP surprisingly won a majority of seats in 1990.
529399_10152715812245215_874041131_nOne thing should be clear: for anti-austerity resistence to succeed there must be rank and file organization against austerity and concessions inside the NDP and the unions.
A critical test of that idea will occur at the Ontario NDP Convention in November. To prepare for that, the Socialist Caucus will host an Ontario Conference on Saturday, September 6. It will petition for a change of leadership and political direction of the party. It will decide on priority resolutions. It will select SC candidates for the ONDP Executive. It will plan the next edition of Turn Left, the SC magazine, for which a fund appeal is presently underway.
Can the Socialist Caucus make a difference? It has proven that it can. The SC won the federal NDP in 2006 to the policy ‘Canada Out of Afghanistan’. The SC led the fight at the 2011 NDP convention in Vancouver to keep ‘socialism’ in the party constitution, and again at the 2013 convention where we won the debate on ‘free post-secondary education’. We forced the Ontario party leadership in 2010 to conduct a review of public funding of Catholic separate schools, and held the only large public hearing on the issue.
Clearly, socialist revolution requires more than socialist resolutions. But change starts with joining the fight inside the main working class organizations.
Capitalism has nothing to offer workers, women, youths, seniors and the poor. The Occupy movement showed there is a hunger for change, and re-defined the notion of ‘majority.’ The Quebec students’ movement showed what a mass ‘social strike’ against neo-liberalism looks like. The current continental campaign for a $15/hour minimum wage inspires millions.
Opposition to Line 9, to the Northern Gateway pipeline, and the fight to save Canada’s postal services have the same potential. The global popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ indicates the wide disdain for growing inequality, and the appetite for a radical new direction. The defeat of Ken Georgetti’s executive slate at the Canadian Labour Congress Convention in May is further evidence of stirrings below the surface.
In our tortured world, anger and suffering there is aplenty. What’s lacking is leadership. Leadership is born in struggle. Join the struggle for a new leadership in the workers’ movement. Join the NDP Socialist Caucus. Together we will win.
Sign the petition! Spread the word!!

OCAP Says No to Welfare Merger/Cuts

by John Wilson
On New Year’s day 2014 there’s not much to celebrate for those who are unemployed, low-waged, who rely on welfare, or live on disability benefits in Ontario. To make matters worse, only 35 per cent of the unemployed even qualified for Employment Insurance benefits (which have been reduced), compared to 74 per cent eligible in 1990. Two priority campaigns of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) highlight this reality.
The first is the campaign to “raise the rates”. The rates paid by Ontario Works (welfare) were brutally slashed by nearly 22% bywe're here for our$ the notorious regime of Mike Harris in the mid-90s. Since then, for single claimants, the payments have lost a staggering 56% of their spending power. These rates were frozen since 1995, until the advent of the present Liberal regime, but any increases have been miniscule – only 15% over the last ten years, far less than the rate of inflation.
OCAP demands an immediate 55% increase. It is common knowledge that welfare recipients have little left over after paying rent. They rely on food banks to survive and have almost nothing for other needs. Supplementary benefits have been under continuous attack, despite the laughable “poverty reduction” mantra of the austerity-mongering Wynne government. As OCAP organizer John Clarke wrote in the Bullet (May 2013): “The fundamental nature of the welfare system can be traced all the way back to its roots in the old English Poor Laws. The system has always been there to reluctantly provide enough assistance to stave off unrest and social dislocation, but to do so at levels and in forms that maximize the flow of labour into the lowest paying and most exploitative jobs on offer.” “Ontario Works” says it all.
DSCN1663The same approach to disability benefits leads into a second major campaign to prevent the merger of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). At a November 20 rally in Toronto, attended by over 120 people, speakers outlined their concerns. Historically, disability and welfare rates have been separate. If combined, from where will any increases for disability come? With downloading to municipalities, will ‘reassessment’ of disability claimants follow the notorious British model? Rally participants learned about the savage cuts to disability programs by the reactionary coalition government in Britain, which has handed this process over to ATOS, a private company.
Huge numbers of people there have been disqualified on incredibly specious grounds. A video showed a large field of flowers, each representing a disabled person who died within a short period of being disqualified, often by suicide. It is hardly ‘alarmist’ to think that the same could happen here, since the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has already privatized reassessment with a stupefying increase in disqualifications. The austerity agenda, which has particularly targeted disabled people, is international, as is the capitalist system, which promotes it in the interest of ever cheaper labour platforms.
These two campaigns by OCAP clearly merit the unqualified support of labour, the left and social movements. Attacks on welfare and disability benefits will not only further impoverish poor people, but everyone. The greater the number of people desperate enough to accept the most wretched jobs, the more downward pressure there will be on wage levels, and the more intense will be the attacks on unions.nov 5th cap is broken 2 PS

Inquiry Puts Ontario Premier Wynne on Trial

by Malu Baumgarten
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne ended 2013 nearly tied in popularity with her main opponent on the left, New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, according to a recent Abacus Data Poll. But 2014 may be the year when the public image of the self-proclaimed “social justice premier” Wynne will be forever changed.
On February 19, 2014 an event called A Poor People’s Inquiry will put the premier of Ontario on trial in the court of public opinion. Wynne will be charged with knowingly misleading the public by saying social justice is her top priority. Details of the Toronto trial location and agenda will be announced early in January.
  peoples_inquiry_logo_screenA Poor People’s Inquiry is an initiative of Put Food in the Budget (PFIB), “a grassroots activist group working to hold the Ontario Government’s feet to the fire on promises made – but not kept – to reduce poverty,” according to its website, www.putfoodinthebudget.ca. Starting in September 2013, PFIB held community hearings across Ontario and Toronto neighbourhoods. PFIB is known by campaigns like the Do the Math Challenge – inviting people to live on a “food bank diet” for one week, and the Dear Mr. Premier Tour, in which people in 25 communities in Ontario were video-taped telling a life-size mannequin of former Premier McGuinty what they thought of his austerity budget.
A Poor People’s Inquiry is very timely. People living on social assistance still have the recommendations of commissioners Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh, of the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, hanging over their heads. The report, ironically called Brighter Prospects, was released in October 2012. Among other changes, it proposed a merger of Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Programme, both to be administered by the municipalities. The ODSP Action Coalition, a Toronto based advocacy group for people with disabilities Webcommented on the merger: “Combining the programs may mean that the unique needs of people with disabilities would stop being recognized by the program that is supposed to be there to help them; and delivering the programs locally could well result in greater inequity across the province, as local towns and cities get to decide who in their community would be eligible for which supports, and even which supports would be available.”
The Liberal government of Ontario seems to be big on promises, but not so good at keeping them. In 2008 former Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty promised a strategy to reduce poverty in the province. Instead he cut corporate taxes, increasing the size of the provincial deficit; and introduced an “austerity budget” that threatened to reduce spending on social assistance and vital community and public services. In 2012 his successor, Kathleen Wynne, acceded to the top job calling herself the “social justice Premier.” Since then the Liberal government has effectively cut social assistance, with rate increases lower than inflation.
Let’s remember that a worker, even a middle class worker, in times of such uncertainty may be only a step away from falling into the social assistance system, as many testified at the Inquiry.