On Thursday, Nov. 5, the provincial government will release its 2020 budget. In advance of the budget, OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has released the following statement with video:
I begin by thanking all of the OPSEU/SEFPO members who have worked selflessly on the front lines of this pandemic.
You know who you are. And now the public does too.
They have a better idea of who you are, because you have been there for them, providing the services and care that they need while keeping them safe. All the while, putting yourself in harm’s way.
In fact, I thank all the front-line workers who have been there for us, especially those who have not had the security of working remotely from home.
All of you are truly front-line heroes.
Budget time is always a time of concern for Ontario’s public sector workers.
For decades, we have been the target of successive governments, who have taxed too little and spent unwisely. While governments have filled the pockets of their elite pals in the corporate sector, the front line services that regular, working people rely upon have been destroyed by savage cuts.
And let me be clear: not one of our 3 political parties gets a pass on this one.
All of them have contributed to the decay and destruction of our front-line public services — from Rae, to Harris to McGuinty to Wynne and the early days of the current government.
There is plenty of blame to be shared. But there’s plenty of opportunity to turn it around.
And that’s why I am here.
To talk about a natural renaissance of front-line public services.
The services that treat you when you’re sick; make sure your water is safe to drink; your food is safe to eat; your communities are safe from crime; our children are cared for and our educational system remains world class.
But there are more folks that you don’t often see. Our friends, neighbours and family members.
Like the Personal Support Workers who have worked in the dark shadows of health care caring for our seniors, our heroes in homeless shelters, the person behind the plexiglass making sure that licenses and birth certificates are issued, those who have kept our justice system running and, yes, the skilled staff at the LCBO who never missed a beat ensuring that Ontarians had a least some measure of normalcy, and that government maintained a steady stream of revenue.
And trust me, there are many more. You are not forgotten.
And in this budget, I am demanding that you not be forgotten.
In fact, if this government is to be for the people of Ontario, paid for by the people of Ontario, then it must address the needs, wants and desires of the people Ontario.
In a word, it has to be about a collective investment in the heart and soul of this province. Or as the Premier likes to say, the “regular folks.”
Those without an individual voice.
Those who don’t lobby or attend fundraisers.
Those who are getting all of us all through this pandemic day by day.
Yes, the last eight months have taken a toll on people’s spirits.
But we are resilient and united.
The pandemic, even though we have to be apart, has brought us closer together like never before.
Most of us have parked our political grievances and laid our weapons of rhetoric at the door.
Collaboration, rather than confrontation must be the norm, not the exception. It must be our operating principle.
Now is not the time for grandstanding or unreasonable demands.
But, it is also not the time for cuts to the front lines in the name of austerity or balancing the books.
It is time to invest. And on that, I have some recommendations.
First, let me say being in a position of influence comes with great privilege, but also it comes with great responsibility.
And while I have not walked a mile in the Premier’s shoes, I do know a little bit about the weight of decisions.
On that front, the Premier is to be commended.
He is putting in long hours travelling across this province.
I know because we often talk at all hours from all parts of Ontario.
I also know he cares about people.
And he cares about opinions, even from those who publicly take him on. Even those he disagrees with.
That’s a sign of leadership.
And while I don’t always agree with the Premier, I will say this: He hears folks out.
He doesn’t always get it right, but then again none of us do.
So Premier, if you’re listening, here is my pitch.
In this budget, there must be massive investments in health care infrastructure.
For decades the mounting healthcare deficit has left us all vulnerable.
Privatization of care.
It was advertised as responsible. But surely, now you see that it has left us much poorer as a province.
Lack of capacity, lack of PPE, lack of workers, needless death.
That’s what happens after years of savage cuts.
You have to ask yourself: why would anyone risk their lives to be a PSW in a job so denigrated that private for-profit operators have gotten away with paying wages just slightly above the minimum wage?
Meanwhile, the private corporations and their greedy executives have pocketed billions off the backs of our elderly, the infirm and, sadly, those no longer with us.
That must end now.
Shortages in labs and paramedical services, same issues.
Workers have been used and abused for decades with either privatization or the threat of privatization hanging over their heads.
That must end now, too.
It makes no sense to tell a frustrated and anxious public that shutdowns are the only answer to possible surges in health care needs.
Ontarians are not getting any younger. And they’re not stupid.
We need more, not fewer hospitals, beds, clinics and public labs. We need more ICU capacity, not less.
This virus isn’t going away any time soon and there is likely another pandemic on its heels, so let’s spend smart by increasing our capacity right now.
Let’s use our community colleges as Bill Davis intended, as a source of a highly trained workforce certified by world class academics.
We must ensure that the LCBO remains the crown jewel of government revenue, and stop the slow creep of privatization and dollars away from the public purse.
Corrections must be a safe place for workers and inmates, and Correctional Workers in the community must have the resources and working conditions to keep all of us safe at night.
Children deserve safe classrooms, especially those with special needs. Premier, these classroom workers have been exploited with low pay and poor working conditions for years.
They are the true heroes of our education system.
The Ontario Public Service has been ravaged over the years, a far cry from the glory years when the OPS used to be world renowned and win global awards and accolades in the Davis years.
Morale there is at an all-time low, while workload is at an all-time high.
Front line workers in Children’s Aid, Children’s Mental Health and Developmental Services have suffered savage cuts and restraints over the years because, somehow or other, governments have considered helping professions to be more of a hobby than a profession. Perhaps it is an inherent bias towards female dominated professions?
Those workers care for real people with real needs and real challenges. They deserve better.
Legal Aid clinics, homeless shelter workers and folks who care for those on the streets, they too have been sacrificed at the altar of austerity, while the well-heeled have made off like bandits.
Not too long ago, the Auditor General pointed out that privatization cost the taxpayers of Ontario $8 billion more than would have been the case had those contracts been handled by traditional procurement.
Think of what that money could have done for the workers I just mentioned.
Think of what it would have done for the people of this province.
Premier, I know people and I know you have a big heart.
I know you care.
So, I am taking this one opportunity to say let’s work together.
I am sure that you know by now that Bill 124 was ill-advised. It was typical, political knee jerk reaction that won’t stand the test of scrutiny.
The deficit of this province was not created by the front-line workers of this province.
Deep in your soul, you know that too.
Yet, every damn time, and for the sake of a headline or a boogeyman to blame, workers have borne the brunt.
If worker’s raises were the cause of our deficit, Ontario would have been out of a debt a decades ago.
It’s just not true.
So, here is my offer.
Put together a panel, a table, a working group, whatever the hell you want to call it and let’s figure out a path forward together.
Government and workers and their representatives.
The Boss and the front-line heroes who are seeing us through the crisis of a generation.
What do you have to lose, other than an attachment to old myths that the worker is always to blame?
I’m here to tell they’re not.
They never have been.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas