During a sometimes emotional town hall meeting in Thunder Bay on September 6, nearly 50 citizens, politicians and journalists heard about the damage privatization is doing to their community.
“My child cannot get the help he needs. My God, I fight so hard and I just get nowhere,” said Erin Smith-Rice, fighting back tears. “Our public services aren’t even coming close to meeting our needs.”
One of four panel speakers during the event, Smith-Rice said it’s time for everybody in Thunder Bay — and across Ontario — to acknowledge that decades of privatization and corporate tax cuts are having serious and even deadly consequences.
“More and more people are suffering. We have more homelessness. We have more drug addiction. We just can’t take any more of these cuts. We have to fight for the services we need.”
OPSEU Executive Board Member Ed Arvelin, who emceed the event, said the union’s We Own It campaign is helping people fight for public services.
“We’ve started a movement in Ontario that will help us take back our public services,” Arvelin said. “We know from our fights to save public ServiceOntarios and the SOS program at Shelter House that we can accomplish incredible things when we work together.
“Working together on We Own It, we’ll start rebuilding our public services.”
Event organizer and panelist Mike Lundy, a correctional officer with OPSEU Local 708, said the province’s jails are now so poorly funded that they’re actually forcing inmates deeper into lives of crime.
“The idea used to be to help inmates learn a job or a trade, give them some self-confidence so that when they were released, they’d go on to live productive lives,” he said. “But now they’ve privatized the kitchens. They’ve privatized the license plates. They’ve closed the farms.
“Our jails have basically just turned into criminal universities. We don’t give the inmates any services or support, so they just fall deeper into crime.”
Community college worker Owen Smith traces rising tuition and student debt to privatization of public assets such as Hydro One and Hwy 407.
“As they sell off assets that generate revenue, it leaves us for less money to invest in our students,” he says. “That is only going to hurt us even more into the future.”
Mental health worker Laurie Koval pointed to specific example of privatization failing clients and community: methadone clinics.
“Thunder Bay has the highest per capita number of private methadone clinics and Canada, and Thunder Bay also has the highest per capita number of methadone-related accidental deaths in Canada,” said Koval. “These private clinics have no incentive to help people wean themselves off methadone, and so they’re not.”
After the panelists had all spoken, Thunder Bay City Councillor Andrew Foulds threw his support behind the campaign.
“I don't think many people in the public truly realize the profound effects and consequences of privatization,” he told the meeting. “I want to recognize all the work the We Own It mobilizers have done and that OPSEU has done to educate people about privatization.
“Movements have to start somewhere, and I truly think We Own It is a catalyst for a genuine movement. You're making a real difference. Thank you.”