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.

2 thoughts on “The Ontario Liberals’ dirty secret”

  1. This whole article is stunningly naive.

    If I were to go to the legislature and pass a law which reads:

    “No one shall be poor in Ontario ever again!”

    Do you think that that would actually work? So why would it be different if I changed the above to:

    “No one shall be poor in Ontario ever again, because the minimum wage is $14”

    You can’t legislate away poverty, that’s just economic nonsense.

    If you could, why not raise the minimum wage. How about $20/hr or $200/hr or even $2,000,000/hr that way no one would be poor and we could legislate most poor people into becoming millionaires.

    1. I don’t think you actually read the post.

      What’s naive is to think that when the number of people working for minimum wage nearly triples in the space of a decade, those people won’t demand a wage that makes it possible to pay for the necessities of life, without having to resort to food banks, payday loan sharks and credit card debt.

      It’s also naive to think that successful campaigns like the recent one in Seattle won’t spread when more and more people are forced into low wage and precarious work.

      The law doesn’t have to say “No one shall be poor in Ontario ever again” (although that’s a worthy goal – and you haven’t offered any better). All it has to say is “the minimum wage is $14.” Period.

      It can also say that people living on social assistance and disability support must be paid enough to afford the basics of life. That’s not economic nonsense at all.

      “How about $20/hr”

      Sounds good to me. The minimum wage in Australia is even higher than that for some workers.

      “or $200/hr or even $2,000,000/hr”

      That would probably be more than anyone needs, don’t you agree? Maybe a better question is, when is enough enough?

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