People in Kenora packed into a We Own It town hall meeting on April 4—and hundreds more tuned in via social media—all eager to help ensure that privatization is a major issue in the upcoming provincial election.
"We've got 57,000 people signed up on this campaign—that's a heck of a voting block," said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas to the crowd.
"I've been all over the province, holding these forums, and I'm telling you: we can turn this election."
People in the crowd were quick to agree.
"We Own It is a great campaign, and we have to get behind it," said Pat Brett, a local LCBO employee. "We have to make sure that it hits harder and harder as we get closer to the election. We have to make sure privatization is an issue."
Melissa Pearson, an Ontario Disability Support Program employee from Fort Frances, is also enthusiastic about the campaign.
"I love the language of We Own It," said Pearson. "It gives us a real chance to talk to people about the value of public services and the dangers of privatization in a way that makes sense."
OPSEU President Thomas was one of three featured speakers during the event.
The other two were Tania Cameron, an indigenous activist and community organizer, and Clayton Lund, a retired snowplow driver for the Ministry of Transportation.
Lund said the highways in northwest Ontario are much more dangerous now that plowing is managed by the private sector. He'd know: he was a public snowplow driver before the service was privatized.
"When we were doing it, the standard was simple: as soon as you saw snow, you reacted to it," said Lund. "Now, they private operators have got a half hour to react to weather.
"Imagine if ambulances waited a half hour before reacting to an emergency?"
For Cameron, privatization is causing huge problems with the health care and long-term care that her community needs.
She says her own family has been struggling to find quality long-term care for her aging mother.
"It's so hard to be on that waiting list," said Cameron. "For a while, we even moved her to a facility in Manitoba but it was just too far—she was isolated and it was terrible for her."
So Cameron made the agonizing decision to bring her back to Ontario. Once she returned to Ontario, they got what seemed like good news: a public long-term care bed had opened up for her.
"But then I heard it was hours away in Marathon, and my heart just broke … it was so far away," said Cameron. "That's what we face up here in northwestern Ontario. Just because a long-term care bed comes up doesn't mean that it will be in your town or even close to your town."
Thomas urged the people attending and watching the town hall to talk to their friends, family members, neighbours, and co-workers about privatization.
"Ontarians are realizing that privatization is the pay-more, get-less plan, and that more privatization will just keep us falling backwards," Thomas said. "We just have to make sure that we remind people that when they vote, they should vote for better, not backwards."