“Serious fiscal restraint” wins in 2014 Ontario election

Kathleen Wynne - #14now!

With the Liberal majority now evident, the necessary question for self-identified progressives should be: what does this mean for the future of social justice struggles in Ontario? The Liberals have promised a budget that increases spending in a wide range of important areas, but they have also promised to impose three years of austerity after that. This makes it clear that their ostensibly progressive platform was only a cover for the same unimaginative, undemocratic program promoted by McGuinty-appointed bank economist Don Drummond in his austerity commission report. This will impose even more pain for the middle class, not to mention the poorest and most vulnerable in this province, whose numbers are growing.

On CBC radio’s election-night discussion of the results, it was repeatedly emphasized that the Liberals’ win would result in an overall program of “serious fiscal restraint” and public-sector austerity. Neglected in that coverage was any mention of the costs that would impose on those who can least afford it, and who are least responsible for the recent economic downturn. Nor did anyone mention the duplicity of the Liberals’ campaigning on a “progressive” budget while promising three full years of spending cuts (when population growth is factored in). Also not highlighted was how, to a significant extent, that direction was agreed to by the three major parties and how, therefore, austerity was the clear winner from the moment the election was called.

Unfortunately, while able to claim a significant short-term tactical victory, the anyone-but-Hudak campaign revealed a bankruptcy of meaningful strategy. The campaign failed to propose alternatives to the multi-party consensus on austerity, or present a vision for reducing inequality.  Also left unexamined was that all major parties backed spending reductions which, only a decade ago, would have been at home in any fiscal conservative extremist’s platform—a fact  barely mentioned by “progressives” in the labour movement or the mainstream media. This after a world financial crisis that was caused by the schemes of bankers and hedge fund managers who have escaped, not only unharmed, but almost immeasurably better off at the expense of the rest of us.

What can the left do to respond to this situation? Those within the NDP need to organize for a new leadership that is not afraid to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable in the province. They should also marginalize the strategists and pundits who took sides against longtime core supporters critical of the party’s direction under Andrea Horwath. This should not be dismissed as a futile avenue for political action, even though it also has its obvious limits. Regardless of what the NDP becomes, those on the left have a responsibility to organize effective political alternatives, both inside and outside the electoral system, which have the capacity to threaten the establishment consensus on what the limits of possibility are in Ontario. Without such alternatives, it is extremely unlikely that this province will see meaningful social change anytime soon.

The Ontario Liberals’ dirty secret

People in Ontario are understandably worried about Tim Hudak’s reckless plan to cut corporate taxes and slash government spending. However, what most people don’t realize (because it hasn’t been widely reported) is that the Liberals are planning their own cuts, and they are deeper than we’ve seen in a long time:

Premier Kathleen Wynne is presenting Ontario’s June 12 election as a stark choice between her Liberal economic stimulus plan and her main rival’s vow to cut 100,000 government jobs.

Yet Wynne’s own budget documents show this year’s spending surge will be followed by the deepest freeze in two decades.

After boosting program spending by $3 billion this year, the Liberal Party leader plans to hold the line the next three years in a bid to eliminate the deficit. Given population growth, a 2017 Liberal government would drop spending by the most per person since former Premier Mike Harris won election on deficit elimination in 1995.

Meanwhile, the NDP are proposing a whole ministry to cut $600M annually in “waste”—a project that Rob Ford attempted in Toronto, and which failed dramatically here. Almost all of that supposed waste was eventually deemed to support necessary and important services. In other words, there was no gravy to be found.

Still, all three provincial parties say that government spending is wasteful and inefficient, and needs to be cut, without providing evidence, and even though Ontario already has the lowest public spending per capita among all the provinces.

It’s therefore not surprising that no party says where those cuts will be found. We’re supposed to take it on faith that they will find the savings without further damaging the social fabric of this province, and that they have our best interests at heart.

Yet how can we believe them, when no major party has a proposal to introduce a living wage for people now subsisting on $11/hr, or on social assistance or disability support—even though more and more of the much-championed “middle class” are ending up in that situation themselves? (In the last decade, the percentage of workers earning minimum wage in Ontario almost tripled, from 3.5% of all workers in 2003, to 9.3% in 2012).

It hasn’t been said yet in this campaign, but we all know what happens when the middle class shrinks. They become poor. (And if you need another reason to care about that, poverty is bad for your health!)

The Liberals and NDP would tie future increases for the minimum wage and basic social supports to inflation (the NDP would fix the former at just $12/hr in 2014 dollars—below the poverty line even for full time workers). That would actually condemn increasing numbers of their fellow human beings to remain in poverty indefinitely. And no major party has a plan to address the growth of precarious work in this province.


Seattle has just introduced a $15/hr minimum wage. Australia’s is more than $16/hr, while anti-poverty activists in Ontario are calling for just $14/hr—enough to raise a full-time worker here out of poverty. In the US, Barack Obama has called for an immediate and dramatic increase in the minimum wage, and leading economists like James K Galbraith call this the best way to reduce equality and grow the economy.

What could be more reasonable? The people who work at the stores where we shop, the people who make and serve the meals in our restaurants, do not deserve to live in poverty. Neither do people with disabilities, or anyone else. Should we accept it when our political parties imply that they do?

With all of the big three parties planning dramatic cuts, and ignoring the most vulnerable in this province, the only way to fight them is to organize and speak out against these policies, both during and after the election period.

One way to do so is to support campaigns like this.

Voting isn’t enough. Staying silent simply because one party seems less bad than the others, or because you’ve supported them in the past, is neither wise, nor strategic.

Let’s be honest with each other about what is under attack. Public services are what build our capacity as a democracy. Put simply, they create the material equality between citizens that gives substance to the (otherwise abstract) notion that we all have a say. When you cut public spending, you attack that democracy.

Why not demand more democracy during this election, instead of accepting less?

A former teacher of mine visited Greece last year and learned that university professors there were being forced to bring their own toilet paper to work. This is the callousness of the global austerity program in action, a program whose principles every major party in Ontario accepts—even while banks are making record profits, companies are hoarding hundreds of billions in cash, and CEO salaries are going up… and this even though many already make an average worker’s salary in a day and a half or less.

The rich are getting richer and richer at the expense of the rest of us. It has recently been surmised that they like it that way (subscribers only, of course):

Why Wall Street Secretly Loves Piketty - excerpt

…but that doesn’t mean we have to!

We can resist these cuts, and insist on fairness instead; we can insist that the disadvantaged and marginalized are put first. We need a government and political institutions that are responsive to the needs of the rest of us.

We can, and should, demand these things now.

Bob Rae to Desmond Tutu: Africa’s filthy, too


In the Globe and Mail today, “Tutu’s harsh words prompt new focus on oil-sands fight“:

First the Athabasca Chipewyan partnered with Canadian rocker Neil Young in a treaty-rights awareness tour.

Then, this past weekend, the 1,100-person northern Alberta First Nation – whose members feel its land and water are being sacrificed for an estimated $200-billion in oil-sands investment over the next decade – hosted renowned human-rights leader Desmond Tutu, who toured the oil-sands region and, at a weekend conference on treaty rights and the environment, called Canada’s bitumen production “filth.”

By the time the Nobel laureate left Fort McMurray on Sunday, his beyond-famous personality had brought international attention to the First Nation’s push for more environmental protections and negotiating power.

What sayeth the wise-white-elder-turned-First-Nations-advocate, Bob Rae about this?

Former federal Liberal leader Bob Rae, who also spoke at the conference, said righting historic treaty wrongs is important for moving forward with energy projects. But, he said he disagreed with Mr. Tutu’s characterization of the oil sands.

“I don’t think the filth comment is very helpful because, I mean, oil and gas development is happening all over the world. It’s happening in Africa and elsewhere,” he said. “Everybody recognizes that there are environmental issues around the development of our resources. But I don’t think that [comment] really helps people to listen to each other.”

Because it’s true, you know, the filth is everywhere. And who’s fault is that?