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Election question: What kind of Ontario do we want?

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Recent election results in the United States and here at home have got us all wondering where the world is going these days. And with a provincial election next year, when I say "the world," I mean Ontario.

In some municipal races and the U.S. mid-term elections, quite a few voters shifted their support to right-wing candidates. At bottom, these candidates don’t like government. Many of the voters who backed them blame government for their problems.

What are their problems – their real problems? If you ask me, the biggest one is economic uncertainty. If you look at Toronto, the unemployment rate has been too close to 10 per cent for too long. That’s bad enough, but household income paints an even gloomier picture. In the last census, 24.5 per cent of Toronto households were low-income households. That compares to a 14.7 per cent rate for all Ontario households.

Despite the city’s great wealth, many Toronto workers live hand-to-mouth, holding their families together with two or three low-wage part-time jobs. They don’t even have time to see their kids, let alone bring them up the way they want to.

Sudbury has had a hard time lately, too. In 2009, mining giant Vale forced 3,300 nickel miners into a year-long strike until they accepted the concessions the company demanded. How did Sudbury voters respond? By booting out progressive John Rodriguez and installing a Vale official in the mayor’s chair. The gloating comment from one mining executive: "The city is finally realizing we’re not a labour town, we're a business community."

In the U.S., once the only economy that mattered, the working people who bailed out Wall Street are now being beaten down by the same people they rescued. The job market is worse than here, and American workers don’t have the supports, like public health care, that Canadian workers do.

Yet on both sides of the border, many voters opted for candidates whose policies won’t create jobs or build the public services people need. In fact, they’ll just make matters worse. So what’s the appeal?

Well, people’s worries are real, and it’s always easy to exploit the fears of worried people. The Tea Partiers and their Ontario imitators harnessed fears and worries and anger to create a backlash against so-called "elites." In their version of reality, these elites a) control government; b) make a living off the work of real people; and c) don’t understand the concerns of real people.

The real story is somewhat different: That’s because the elites aren’t in government at all. They’re in the boardrooms of big corporations.

Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford is a millionaire who runs a business he inherited from his father. His ideology is that of corporations. They want lower wages for workers. They want lower taxes for corporations and the wealthy, i.e., themselves. They want a smaller public sector. They want the public sector to get out of the way so business has more investment opportunities – and more profits.

In the U.S. the problem is a hundred times worse. Down there, a recent Supreme Court decision means corporations can spend as much money as they want on political campaigns, and do it in secret. Contrary to reports, the Tea Party is no "grassroots" movement. Let’s be clear: It is funded by billionaires, and it serves the purposes of billionaires. (To learn more, check out Linda McQuaig’s recent article here.)

From David Miller to Barack Obama, politicians who have at least tried to solve people’s actual problems have taken a beating lately. Now that the corporations have their puppets in power, it’s their turn to come up with solutions. They will fail, I guarantee it. And when they do, we have to be talking about real solutions that will solve real problems of real people.

OPSEU members are real people. I know we can do it.

Premier Dalton McGuinty has given corporations the tax cuts they want – billions of dollars worth. Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak, eager for the next election, would love to go even further with stepped-up attacks on public employees. Neither approach is good for our province.

The debate in the next election must be about the kind of Ontario we want to live in. Do we want good jobs and public services that allow people to live decently, bring their kids up properly, and retire with dignity? Or do we want a vicious dog-eat-dog world where the biggest, meanest dogs always have more than they need, and keep on grabbing more?

Let’s make our voices heard for the former. And let’s start now.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President

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