Welcome to Drummondville. We’re not in the city with the same name east of Montreal. We’re in a place in Ontario built on the musings of a $1500 a day consultant/banker. Based on life in Ontario’s Drummondville, his advice has proven to be as much of a help as it was in taking us to the brink of economic collapse in 2008. For Drummond, practice makes perfect.
Maybe we should not blame the messenger. After years in high finance he had to interrupt his retirement to save us. He arrived on the scene during the pre-election period when McGuinty needed a stunt to take the province’s finances off of the public radar. By doing so he was saying: “never mind the financial deficit!”
McGuinty abandoned the premier’s office without a fight by handing Ontario to corporate interests. So much for the belief this take over could never happen here. He indicated our provincial deficit is a democratic one where bankers, instead of the elected, call the shots. This mirrors what took place just a short time later in Italy and Greece. There, democratically elected governments were replaced by bank appointed Boards of Directors.
Now we are faced with the result – the Drummond recommendations and the resulting community of Drummondville.
In Drummondville they embrace fewer teachers and more slot machines. No one expects the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes. Instead, the middle class and poor pay through sin taxes, road tolls, user fees, school bus fares, limited access to women’s health care and surgeries.
In Drummondville, people face an all or nothing world where the sky is always falling. All future economic growth, as puny as it will be, is based on firing public sector workers, because everyone knows the private sector is a great job creator. The private sector can only do that when government sheds payroll through layoffs. Prosperity through austerity, right?
A balance between public and private sectors is not allowed in Drummondville. Balance doesn’t meet Drummond’s crisis script. His world needs a slot machine on each corner and more liquor stores. These stores would not simply come from repatriating the agency stores government provided to friends, years ago, to provide millions of dollars in profits to store owners. They would be private sector stores in large centres designed to compete with the LCBO.
The people in Drummondville ignore the fact they have the cheapest and most efficient public service in Canada. They even ignore the fact that Dwight Duncan, their Finance Minister has said so. Even with this efficiency, few talk about raising added government revenues to support services. Instead, most chant that taxes are a drain on the system. Make users pay for services instead.
In Drummondville, whether you earn $10,000 or $300,000 a year, everyone pays the same price for medical services, school bus rides and the other services they use. That’s fair, they think, because it is just like the service changers they pay at the bank.
The tax system is also different. Instead of the wealthy paying a higher percentage to government than the poor, everyone pays the same tax percentage. There are also more ways for the rich to write off these costs. That’s fair taxes instead of tax fairness. The assumption in Drummondville is that this leaves the wealthy with money to invest in job creation.
Instead of appointing Drummond, the Premier had other options. He could have started a conversation with stakeholders from business, labour and government to discuss the financial future. Together as equals this could have generated some balanced and progressive ideas. That’s the kind of advice we need for a prosperous future. OPSEU attempted to do this several years ago when it brought together groups for the Ontario 2020 Conference.
Instead, McGuinty divested his powers to a banker. This will be recorded in history as cowardly and divisive.
With the release of the Drummond report, Ontario has to contend with his flawed conclusions. The theory of self fulfilling prophecy tells us that the race to the bottom is now about to begin.
Someone needs to change the dialogue. Enter OPSEU. In partnership with the Public Services Foundation of Canada and their launch of the Commission for Quality Public Services and Tax Fairness, we travelled the province to talk to real Ontarians. We spoke with those who call Ontario home; who have a vested future in its recovery and who believe that Ontario will again be Canada’s economic engine.
These people believe we all need to pay our fair share. They are willing to make sacrifices. They want to be part of the solution. They will not sit idly watching as our province fades into the kind of top-down, privilege-based system central to Don Drummond’s all or nothing proposals.
Ontario’s problems are a result of Free Trade and Globalization. Far from making life peaceful and prosperous, these treaties serve their corporate supporters. Unions shouted that this will result in greed superseding the collective good. These shouts were drowned out in the corporate media that seldom carried these truths.
The facts speak for themselves. Income disparity has grown as union membership has declined. Why? Unions act to improve life for large groups in the community rather than just placing wealth into the hands of the few. With prosperity these unionized community members add to a growing and prosperous middle class. Unions build community wealth. They are part of the solution.
OPSEU members and their partners in the community are on the right path. Public opinion is tilting against Drummond’s recommendations. The road to Drummondville may yet be avoided.
That is the challenge we face. There is a lot of work yet to do. After all, this is our Ontario rather than Ontario in 3D (with Don, Dalton and Dwight). Let’s make sure that Canada’s only Drummondville is that city east of Montreal, Quebec.