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OPSEU to Premier Wynne: Still time to make budget changes

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas
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In an Open Letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne released today, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas writes that it's not too late to make some key changes to the July 14 provincial budget, including a Fairness Test that would determine whether the content of the budget increases income inequality or reduces it.


July 4, 2014
Via email: premier@ontario.ca

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Premier of Ontario
Legislative Building
Room 281, Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1

Dear Premier Wynne:

On July 14 your government will re-introduce its budget, a document we are told will be identical to the one which triggered the June 12 provincial election. Once again, I congratulate you on your party’s success that day.

While many commentators – and even some colleagues of mine in organized labour – described the budget as “progressive,” I must, respectfully, disagree. Indeed, there were some measures – like the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan – that many of us have supported  for years. However, the overall tone and substance of the budget, in my view, falls short of being progressive in any meaningful sense of the word.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa may have no intention of altering the “numbers” contained in the July 14 budget, yet I believe that there are other steps he should seriously consider that would significantly improve the lives of millions of people in our province. By doing so, his budget could then fairly be described as moving in a progressive direction.

While you and I may disagree on other public policies, I believe we are of one mind when it comes to the recognition that rising income inequality has rapidly become one of the major social policy issues in Ontario and across Canada. As I did earlier this year in correspondence with your Office, I again urge your government to develop a Fairness Test that would assess the impacts of tax and spending policies on income inequality in future provincial budgets.

A Fairness Test would help ensure that the most vulnerable Ontarians would not be further hurt by tax and spending policies that far too often lift the fortunes of the few at the expense of the many. In short, a test of the sort I am proposing would gauge whether provincial budgets reduce income inequality or widen it further.

There are other steps that I urge your government to implement that would significantly strengthen our provincial economy. I am referring to OPSEU’s proposed Five Point Plan to Protect Public Services.

 If adopted, our plan to protect public services would put a stop to asset giveaways, stanch the resultant fiscal bleeding and, better still, ensure quality public services for the citizens of Ontario who actually underwrite them.

Among the key elements to our plan: public consultation and clear evidence that privatization will lead to improved services; privatization must be proceeded by a full and open review by an independent body, including a cost-benefit analysis; public sector workers and other interested parties must have standing in the review process; the process, studies and findings must be tabled with the Legislature and, finally, if privatization is recommended, employees must maintain their existing rights, benefits and entitlements.

For close to 20 years Ontario’s efforts at privatizing public assets have proven to be a massive error in public policy. By now the public is familiar with the litany of failures: ORNGE, Walkerton, Highway 407, Teranet, LCBO Agency stores, meat inspection, jail privatization. The list goes on.

This is a recent, if regrettable, phenomenon. In the decades following the Second World War, Ontario was a global leader in building strong and enviable public services. Our health care system, expanded educational opportunities and public infrastructure helped build one of the strongest economies found anywhere in the West.

That came to an abrupt stop in the mid-1990s. Not coincidentally, Ontario’s economy has weakened over this period of time and is struggling to regain its once-mighty strength.

It needn’t be this way. Like you, I have tremendous faith in the future of Ontario, the people who live and work here, and the economic prospects we can build together.

But the old and, in many cases, disgraced remedies are not elixirs.

We both have our eyes trained on how Ontario can become a fair and just jurisdiction – socially and economically – for the benefit of all. To this end I believe OPSEU has put forward innovative ideas worth testing. A good starting point would be July 14, Budget Day.

Sincerely

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President

WST/gh