By Mitchell Shore
Socialist Action – Toronto members proudly joined the June 13 People’s Rally at Queen’s Park to protest some of the first actions of the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party government. On June 7, the Tories won 76 of the 124 seats in the Ontario Legislature — securing 61 per cent of the seats with only 40 per cent of the votes cast, equaling about a quarter of the electorate.
Despite the hard work of the organizers, the turnout was poor. Only about 200 people attended. While the extreme heat of the day served as an excuse, the primary reason was the absence of an organized union presence. Besides a handful of individual union and community activists, a solid presence by the $15 and Fairness coalition, and three or four socialist groups, there was no sign of coordinated union participation. There was no OPSEU, no AMAPCEO, no CUPE, no ETFO, OSSTF or OECTA, no UNIFOR, no UFCW, no ATU, no Steelworkers’ Union — the list goes on.
Likewise, there was no sign of the New Democratic Party. The NDP, Canada’s only labour-based political party, now holds official opposition status in Ontario. Sadly, its leaders seem comfortable confining their meager resistance efforts to the chambers of the Legislature — an approach that is bound to fail. The Tories hold a majority of seats and the NDP can only slow the torrent of reactionary laws. NDP MPPs are powerless to actually to stop any Conservative party legislation. They ought to join us on the streets to amplify their voices and educate for change. And where were the supposedly brave activists of the NDP who are calling for action immediately following the election? Ford is not taking the summer off. Before we know it, much more will be stripped away in the name of “saving taxpayers money”.
Premier Doug Ford has already put in place a hiring freeze and has frozen the pay of all Ontario public service mangers. He fired Ontario’s Chief Scientist, sacked the government’s investment czar, terminated its top business adviser, and decimated Hydro One’s leadership. The promise that “no one is getting laid off” under a Ford administration is quickly exposed as a lie. The Tories then awarded a plush patronage position to Rueben Devlin, a former hospital president, a former president of the Progressive Conservative party, and a close friend of Doug Ford. This is a three year contract that comes with $348,000 annual salary — on top of his existing, six-figure, public pension! His role will be to think about new ways to end “hallway medicine”. Again, this cynical appointment exposes the falsehood behind the promise about putting “an end to the government’s party with your money”. Over three years that’s $1 million — money which could be better used to employ unionized nurses to try to help deal with treatment delays in our hospital hallway medicine crisis.
At a time of dramatic climate change and extreme global warming, the Tories have rolled back most of the mild green energy efforts of the previous Liberal Ontario government. The new Minister of the Environment, Rod Phillips, stated that government will come up with its own plan to fight climate change that does not put an “onerous burden on the economy”. What do these plans entail? To start, they cut government subsidies and supports for green energy technologies and appliances. They cancelled 758 renewable energy contracts in an effort to save $790 million. Soon the government will table legislation to kill the White Pines wind turbine project on Lake Ontario, south of Belleville, which is anticipated to leave taxpayers on the hook for about $100 million.
In what came as a shock to many people working in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), immediately after the election and following the Speech from the Throne, congratulatory messages were sent to the Tories by two major public sector unions, OPSEU and AMAPECO. This is a betrayal of working class resistance and solidarity. Instead of ‘cutting Ford some slack’, these organizations should be gearing up to defend the jobs and rights of all union members and stand up to defend the services of the people of Ontario.
The first thing on his legislative agenda is busting the four months-long strike of teaching and graduate assistants at York University. CUPE Local 3903 members walked off the job on March 5 seeking improved job security as well as better funding for the university. It is now the longest academic strike in Canadian history. Not surprisingly, rather than using their authority to encourage York U to go back to the bargaining table, to come to a negotiated settlement, the Tories have chosen to make one of their first legislative initiatives an attack on workers, and ultimately an attack on the quality of education at Ontario universities. After four and a half months on the picket line, the courageous workers of CUPE 3903 now have to deal with the harsh reality that they will be unjustly, and unconstitutionally, legislated back to work. And at this critical time, the mis-leaders of two major public service unions should be ashamed of themselves for offering the government congratulations. CUPE 3903 deserves union solidarity, not offers of collaboration with the political thugs who aim to force them back to work.
The Tories also plan to repeal the 2015 sexual education curriculum. In its place, the Tory homophobes have promised to bring back the 1998 curriculum! This is a highly sanitized version of curriculum that preceded high-speed internet and Google, a time before cyber bullying and the dangers of sexting, a time before open and honest discussions about consent, sexuality, gender identity, and same-sex relationships. The Tories are doing this, it seems, largely to appease a tiny minority of social conservatives in their ranks, such as the religious-nut Charles McVety, right-wing newspaper columnist Barbara Kay, national president of the anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition, Jim Hughes, and the newly appointed Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education, the home-schooled 20 year old, Sam Oosterhoff, all of whom backed Doug Ford in his bid to become leader of the party.
The Tory thugs have also announced they will cut essential curriculum development, which was started on recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They put a stop to the development of an American Sign Language (ASL) curriculum, and they have cut all funding for crucial school repairs.
Next, it is likely they will repeal Bill 148, the labour law reforms that include a $15/hour minimum wage set for 2019. This will probably be followed by a tax cut of 20 per cent that will most benefit the rich. His tax credit for child care costs will not create more spaces, raise or enforce standards, or boost pay for low wage workers. No steps to build social housing, and no significant increase in health care funding are in store. The Ford government has also postponed implementation of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit Act aimed at improving police oversight. Ontario is headed towards a return to carding – a practice that disproportionately targets black and brown people. Carding is a racist practice that stigmatises minorities, but does nothing to stop crime. This decision was made just days before Michael Tibollo, the Minister of Community Safety and Corrections, the man tasked with heading up the Anti-Racism Directorate, said in the Ontario Legislature that he wore a bulletproof vest when visiting Toronto’s largely poor and racialized neighborhood of Jane and Finch. The Tories seem uninhibited when it comes to revealing their racist bigotry. This kind of frenzied, toxic atmosphere is what the Tories are rapidly fostering.
On June 17, Doug Ford’s office announced the creation of an Independent Financial Commission of Inquiry into Ontario’s past spending and accounting practices. This inquiry will be under the direction of former Liberal Premier of British Columbia Gordon Campbell. It’s another indication that Tories and Liberals are cut from the same cloth. The $6 billion that Ford promised to find in “efficiencies” translates to firing thousands of teachers, health workers and others in the public sector. Cuts in services will be staggering and bloody, impacting most harshly on the impoverished. Ford is a job killer, and a servant to his corporate buddies whose taxes he will greatly reduce, putting the province deeper in the hole.
So what can we do? We need more than just talk about recreating the Days of Action which challenged Ontario Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s. In fact, a better action model is needed to avoid a repeat of what happened then. Leaders of the Ontario Federation of Labour and its major affiliates terminated the momentum-gathering Days of Action before they risked losing control of the movement. The result was massive demoralization of the labour movement and ultimately the re-election of Mike Harris in 1999. And if you think things were bad during the Mike Harris years, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Urgently needed is real, unlimited, militant action. But so far, we have seen very little coordinated resistance. Socialist Action is circulating widely a resolution to encourage all unions, every NDP electoral district association, social justice movements and working class organizations to discuss and adopt a plan in favour of coordinated mass action.
If working class organizations go on record now in favour of mass action opposition to the Ford/Conservative agenda in Ontario, and for a democratic united front of resistance to capitalist austerity, it will help to prepare and coordinate the next phase of struggle. It can also be a very useful item in our tool kit to connect with rank and file workers, fighters against oppression of every kind, and social justice movements.
The resolution, presented below, calls for a democratic united front of resistance to capitalist austerity and it will help to prepare and coordinate the next phase of what is going to be a very long struggle.
“Be it resolved that ……. (fill in your union, NDP association and/or community organization) request that the Ontario Federation of Labour hold an emergency convention to adopt an action plan to confront and defeat the Doug Ford – Progressive Conservative government agenda.
Be it further resolved that …….. (your union, etc.) commits to respond with mass protests, including rallies, demonstrations and job actions,up to and including sectoral and general strikes, against Doug Ford – PC government attacks on public services, civil liberties, equity seeking groups, unions and non-organized workers in this province. We believe that all unions and social justice partners, in anticipation of serious cuts to jobs and services, should go on immediate strike alert and build a broad, democratic united front of resistance.”
The only way to stop the Ford-nado that is about to ravage the province is to shut it down before the mix of hot air and cold hearts gains too much strength and power. We can do this only by building an impenetrable wall of resistance and opposition, which could be a vital step towards a Workers’ Agenda for Ontario.