OPSEU/SEFPO represents over 170,000 members throughout Ontario and across the public sector, including many who have been on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that the provincial deficit has increased as a response to the pandemic, but would caution against a knee-jerk implementation of austerity measures in the upcoming November 2020 budget. What is needed is further investment in public services, especially in health care. According to a Nanos poll done earlier this year, the majority of Ontarians surveyed believe the government should be investing in public sector jobs as a key facet of economic recovery.
Due to the lack of space allowed for written submissions, we encourage the Ministry to review OPSEU/SEFPO’s submission for the pre-budget consultations from this winter. In that submission, OPSEU/SEFPO outlined recommendations that we are once again echoing, including:
- Invest in public services to address problems of understaffing, unfilled vacancies, and unsustainable case and workloads. Budget increases should be above the rate of inflation, especially in health care sectors.
- End the use of privatization (including P3 schemes) and bring back formerly privatized services under public ownership.
- Repeal Bill 124, which is unconstitutional, and results in a real dollar cut to public sector workers’ wages due to inflation.
- Invest the funding needed to provide equal pay, sustainable workloads, and permanent positions to faculty and staff at the province’s universities and colleges.
- Invest in the creation, inspection, and enforcement of strong regulations that keep Ontarians healthy and safe.
OPSEU/SEFPO represents workers all over the Broader Public Sector, many of whom have had to work on the front lines providing services during the pandemic. While the government implemented the $4/hr pandemic pay for some of these workers, many were ineligible. The pandemic pay helped these members deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic, especially as many of them were subject to emergency orders impacting provisions like vacation time. Now that the pandemic pay has ended, many workers are feeling burnt out. This indicates that not only should the pandemic pay be extended to other public sector workers, but that this increase should be permanent. The government ended 2019 by passing Bill 124, which has a direct impact on the wages of public sector workers who have been providing services throughout the pandemic. For specific budget recommendations and policy directions for all of OPSEU/SEFPO’s BPS and OPS sectors, we encourage the government to review our submission from this winter. We will take the rest of this submission to highlight a few key recommendations in response to the questions posed in the budget consultation survey and the clear systemic gaps in our health care systems.
To begin, the question on the budget consultation survey about post-secondary education is blatantly designed to justify the government’s intention to tie the majority of funding for post-secondary education to key performance indicators, which OPSEU/SEFPO stands firmly against. Ontario’s colleges and universities have the lowest per-student funding in the country, which forces universities and colleges to raise tuition, and places a greater burden on students seeking higher education. The Ontario government needs to increase funding to universities and colleges and provide greater financial support to students (ideally, free tuition) to allow them to access post-secondary education. This is the opposite direction the government is moving in, with privatization schemes and partnerships with private colleges increasingly part of the post-secondary landscape. Skills training and post-secondary education dollars should go to colleges or universities, not private profits.
In health care, decades of chronic underfunding have become even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the hospital world, this results in increased “hallway health care”. Capacity issues in Ontario’s hospitals are put under further pressure with the number of COVID-19 cases once again on the rise in Ontario. Not only do hospitals need to receive increased funding to account for inflating health care costs, but also to bring back services that have been privatized or outsourced from the hospitals. The government should also establish a fulsome human resources plan to address recruitment and retention issues, particularly in labs and diagnostic imaging where many workers are approaching retirement.
These problems are exacerbated by the government’s attempts to reorganize health care in Ontario. The Ontario Health Team model, which OPSEU/SEFPO has previously submitted on, is flawed, and opens the door to private organizations having even further influence and control on what should be public services. In the long-term care and home care sectors, public dollars are funneled into corporate hands where that funding is then skimmed for shareholder profits. Private operators cut corners on staffing and other resources to squeeze out every bit of profit from these services. This has had well-documented disastrous results in the context of COVID-19. However, the staffing problems in these sectors cannot be resolved only by increased funding. Home care and long-term care must also be fundamentally reoriented to address the precarity embedded in the sector, which, at its core, requires these services to not only be publicly funded, but publicly delivered by well-compensated and secure workers. The Ontario Health Teams model moves Ontario further from this goal, and risks deepening inequality of access.
 Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, 2020. Economic and Budget Outlook: An Updated Assessment of the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Retrieved from: https://www.fao-on.org/web/default/files/publications/EBO%20Fall%202020/Fall%202020%20EBU%20-%20EN.pdf
 Usher, A., 2019. The State of Postsecondary Education in Canada, 2019. Toronto: Higher Education Strategy Associates. p. 40. Retrieved from: http://higheredstrategy.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/HESA-Spec-2019-Final_v2.pdf
 For example, please see this survey report on the impacts of staffing issues in long-term care from the Ontario Health Coalition: https://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca/wp-content/uploads/LTC-staffing-survey-report.pdf