OPSEU members have a lot to be concerned about as we head into the winter of 2011. We know the next provincial budget will be of critical importance to many. Members worked hard during the past year to voice their concerns and shape the future. We’ve done this through political activity, campaigns and collective bargaining. In the coming months, many units head into negotiations to face employer demands for concessions. .
The wealthy minority have also been busy. Bankers, financial experts, the media, industry and trade associations and key employers have been lobbying hard for their own interests. While they compete with each other behind closed doors, they have found a common target for the months ahead – the public sector and government. They portray OPSEU members as the unfairly “privileged”.
You might think that the democratically elected government of Ontario would protect the public interest by pushing back against the heavy lobbying by society’s wealthiest. Instead, politicians are accepting and even promoting the right-wing views that run counter to the better interests of the 99 percent. Clearly, there’s been a marriage consummated between business and government. The evidence for this elopement isn’t hard to find.
One piece of evidence is our government’s choice for Chair of the Commission on Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, which will examine public services and the deficit. They contracted a banker, Don Drummond for this position. For further insights into what Drummond is up to, view Operation Maple’s new video “Demolition Don”.
Society has learned that it’s a good idea to separate the powers of church and state. Revolutions, wars and a lot of pain taught us that. Now we must separate the powers of business and profit from government. Profit making through private interests can conflict with community interests and the public good. It is time for a reality check and a wake-up call!
Let’s do a quick review of Drummond’s Commission on Reform of Ontario’s Public Services.
- The Commission has a flawed mandate. It is required to examine spending without considering the revenue side of the equation. This allows the Commission to ignore Ontario’s irresponsible corporate tax cuts.
- The selection of Don Drummond, a banker, to chair the Commission gives a clear signal that the interests of big banks and corporations are the government’s primary concern.
- The Commission is acting in a secretive manner. They are selective in the contacts they engage in the process, and do not provide transparency regarding the weight they give to the input of these contributors. Simply put, the public has the most to lose, but is not invited to participate!
- The Commission’s first priority is looking at deficit reduction. Ordinary Ontarians are being made to pay for this reduction through cuts to the public services that are their life-line.
- The Commission is not addressing the growing problem of income inequality. From the bargaining table to the voices of the Occupy Movement, the powerful and privileged “1%” continues to stare down the “99%”.
- The Commission is examining only the cost of public services rather than acknowledging the value of these services to so many of us during these tough times.
This is a recipe for cut backs, layoffs and further pain. The pain will extend from the workplace into the community. We have already seen attempts to impose limits to wages and benefits, lay-offs in the OPS and funding reductions to many BPS agencies.
A key milestone for this process will be the 2012 Ontario budget. What are the factors that we know will form that budget? On one hand the minority Liberal government will have to seek the support of other parties to pass the budget. They can move either to the left or right to do this. The Commission headed by Don Drummond is sure to produce a cost-cutting menu. Selecting Drummond and setting a limited mandate meant government is signaling a preference: cost cutting and deficit reduction not improved services and an end to corporate tax cuts.
The voices of the 99% must be heard before they are drowned out by the pre-budget recommendations of the Drummond Commission and the subsequent cuts and conflicts that will come from the provincial budget.
OPSEU to sponsor an open hearing process
To ensure a wider range of options OPSEU will work with other groups to implement an open and comprehensive hearing process for all voices. The hearing process, in January 2012, will provide our members, community partners and other concerned Ontarians with the opportunity to contribute their thoughts regarding Ontario’s future. Instead of the secretive process and limited mandate of the Drummond Commission, our process will make it easy for a wide sector of the community to be heard.
December 1 is OPSEU’s chance to address the Drummond Commission
On December 1st, OPSEU has been invited to make a presentation to the Commission.
This brief meeting will be our chance to weigh in on the future of the province. We will do just that!
- We’ll be truth tellers by noting that the limits placed on the process will compromise the results.
- We’ll challenge Drummond to adopt a more open process and join our hearings in January.
- We’ll register the key concerns of OPSEU members, even if these concerns fall outside of the Commission’s narrow cost-cutting mandate.
We are currently consulting with all OPSEU sector and division leaders and negotiators to get a priority list of recommendations that can best address the challenges Ontario is facing. These recommendations will not end with our December 1st submission. We will press for these items in the weeks to come. Many members will make presentations at the OPSEU hearing process in January. We will seek wider public attention through the media and political lobbying. The final report from our process will also be widely promoted.
Our voices and those of community partners must balance the recommendations that arise from the Drummond Commission. The limited views of the Commission cannot dominate public discourse in the pre-budget period. We will pressure the government to make the right choices for the future.
OPSEU will ensure that the community’s voice is heard. We will expose and fight back against the marriage between business and government. Working together we will give voice to the interests of the 99%. Our province depends on the services we provide, and we will stand as one to defend them.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union