Tag Archives: Ontario

Ford Begins

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.

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It’s War

The June 7 election of the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party to government in Ontario means an escalation of the class war against working people, visible minorities and impoverished social layers.

The former right wing Toronto city councilor and brother of deceased Mayor Rob Ford cloaked his fiercely anti-labour agenda in populist rhetoric pitched against ‘the establishment, the downtown elites’.  This allowed Doug Ford to channel mass discontent with 15 years of Liberal government cutbacks and corruption.  Premier Kathleen Wynne tried to save the furniture from the fire with a late shift to the left (e.g. increasing the minimum hourly wage, promising more spending to improve health services).  But her Liberal Party lost half its voters and is now reduced to a rump of seven seats in the Ontario Legislature, one shy of official party status.

The labour-based New Democratic Party, running on a mildly left-reform platform, surged to 33.6 per cent and nearly doubled its seat total to 40.  Several of its best policies (re-nationalize Hydro One, free university, drug and dental care, raise taxes on the rich, build social housing and public transit) came straight from the NDP Socialist Caucus playbook.

Andrea Horwath was over-the-top ecstatic at becoming Leader of the Official Opposition, pledging to hold Ford “to account”.  But this won’t do.  The Tory agenda today is much more aggressive than that of right wing Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s.  The horror show must be confronted and stopped by mass protest in the streets and work places, not by reliance on polite parliamentary criticism.

NDP and union leaders should be challenged to lead the fight outside the Legislature. In fact, the labour tops should have mobilized the ranks to campaign for the NDP, to counter the threat of the rampant anti-worker agenda of Ford and his conservative hate mongers. A serious effort to expose Ford’s populist propaganda might well have won the election for the NDP. Instead many labour officials sat on their asses; some even urged ‘strategic’ voting, which meant a vote for the Liberal Party. Unforgivable. This shows why union leaders should be paid no more than the average wage of their union collective agreement. Privileges and fat expense accounts be gone! Replace the conservative bureaucrats with rank and file militants and turn the unions into instruments of class struggle.

Still, one thing is very clear:  Doug Ford’s victory does not signal a unilateral shift to the right. The election rather reflects a polarization to both the left and the right.  The highly disproportionate first-past-the-post electoral system perpetuates capitalist rule by usually delivering a majority of seats to parties that gain a minority of votes. On June 7 the Conservatives captured 61 per cent of the seats (76 in total) with only 40.5 per cent of the votes cast.  In other words, nearly 60 per cent of those who cast ballots supported parties ostensibly to the left of the Tories. That includes the Green Party which won 4.6 per cent and (for the first time in Ontario) one seat. Taking into account a voter turnout of 58 per cent (up from 51 per cent in 2014), it is evident that only about a quarter of the electorate backed Ford Nation.

But Ford says he has a mandate to implement his policies, swiftly.  What are they?  He will probably begin by breaking the strike of teaching assistants at York University, CUPE Local 3903, and then repeal Bill 148, the labour law reforms that include a $15/hour minimum wage set for 2019.  Next will be 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.  On transportation, Ford pledged to take ownership of Toronto’s subway system, which could be the fast track to privatization — while bus service remains woefully inadequate.

Jobs?  The $6 billion Ford says he will find in “efficiencies” translates to firing thousands of teachers, health workers and others in the public sector.  Scores of schools and hospitals will be shuttered.  Cuts in services will be staggering and bloody, impacting most harshly on the impoverished.  Welfare rates will be rolled back and frozen.  Will hydro bills shrink by 12 per cent as promised?  Not likely as the private investors in Hydro One, sold off by Wynne’s Liberals, demand profit dividends.  Most workers won’t miss the demise of the regressive cap-and-trade taxes, a license to pollute, but there is no climate justice plan in its stead.  Hostile to indigenous people’s needs, Ford boasted he’d personally drive the bulldozer to exploit rapidly the Ring of Fire resources in Northern Ontario, with or without local consent.

On education, the Tories promised to repeal the new sex-ed curriculum but earmarked no new funds to repair crumbling school infrastructure.

Surprisingly, Ford never presented a fully costed platform. Economists estimate that the changes he promised, including tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, will create a $20 billion budget hole.  The shortfall is sure to come out of the hide of the working class.

Many workers who voted for Ford expect him to put money in their pocket and deliver $1 beer.  Imagine the disillusionment, indeed the raw anger, that will be felt when they realize they’re less well off.

As Karl Marx observed over 150 years ago, “The point is not to interpret the world, it is to change it.”  Today, the task is not to wait for unfocussed anger at Ford to swell; it is to fan the flames of discontent, build a broad, democratic, united front against capitalist austerity. It is to provide leadership in the struggle for a Workers’ Agenda.  The municipal elections in October offer an opportunity for the left to unite and confront the Ford agenda with a socialist platform. In any case, the road to effective action at all levels will entail replacing the leaders of the mainstream workers’ organizations with radical grassroots activists.

The class war is escalating.  There is no denying it.  The point is to wage it and to win it through mass protests, up to and including sectoral and general strikes with the aim of replacing the Ford regime with a Workers’ Government.

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.

Kellogg’s takes the money, and runs

B821471832Z.1_20131210191412_000_GA514PRQB.7_Contentby Barry Weisleder
How can they get away with it? Ontario taxpayers have given millions to cereal-maker Kellogg Co., which amassed $2 billion in operating profits last year. In 2007, the Liberal government gave the breakfast food giant $2.4 million to buy processing and packaging equipment for its London, Ontario plant, two hours west of Toronto. A year later the government provided Kellogg with a $9.7 million low-interest loan – about 10 per cent of the total cost of opening a new plant in Belleville, Ontario, two hours east of Toronto. And until Kellogg announced on December 10 that it is closing its 90-year old plant in London, and thus killing 610 jobs by the end of 2014, Queen’s Park was set to give Kellogg another grant for $4.5 million.
In other words, the Ontario government has been helping Kellogg to build a new, non-union manufacturing plant in Belleville so that the company can shutter an older, unionized operation in London, Ontario.
The corporate move is part of an overall restructuring, which by 2018 will include closing a plant in Australia and expanding a facility in low-wage Thailand.
kelloggs_closure_londonWe’ve seen this film before. In 2008, the Ontario and federal governments helped bail out General Motors. But when GM became profitable again, the company closed one of its two Oshawa assembly lines, and shifted some production from Ingersoll, Ontario to Tennessee. How’s that for gratitude? In recent years, Massey-Ferguson in Toronto, and the U.S. Steel Corp. in Hamilton behaved similarly.
So, to return to the question posed at the outset, how is this possible?
It is both possible and inevitable because the politicians and governments bestowing the public largesse on those greedy, anti-social firms are the servants of the super-rich.
Why don’t leaders of the unions and the labour-based New Democratic Party challenge the discredited practice of foolishly feeding the corporate elite, and instead advance the democratic idea of public ownership under workers’ and community control?
Surely society is capable of planning the production of useful things without having to bribe private profiteers who operate for a while, then flee, with stuffed pockets, to greener pastures.
To put the democratic option on the table it will take direct mass action from below — like Kellogg’s workers in London occupying the plant they made profitable with their sweat and toil – before its doors are locked forever.