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Even with a majority, we can force change

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Ontario is moving on from the June 12th election. The people have spoken. Some MPPs are packing up while others are getting ready to head to Queen’s Park for the first time.

Across Ontario, OPSEU members voted in support of public services. They voted against cuts and right-wing threats to take us back to the past. Some worked on campaigns, put up lawn signs and took part in other political acts. We should feel good about this work, just as we must accept the election results in 107 ridings. We will respect the process and the candidates that won and lost. It is not easy to be a candidate for any public office.

We now know more about the work we have ahead. We serve the public and witness the problems faced by those we serve. We know what it takes to provide good services that meet needs. We must speak out when these services do not reach acceptable goals.

We know the Liberals have set ambitious “savings” targets to reduce the deficit. They are unwilling to seek new revenue sources to pay for this. We know they will try to cut their way to this goal. As there is little left to cut, privatization will be their answer. Privatization is an epic failure. We know that OPSEU must continue to educate the public about privatization and document its failures, both past and present.

Premier Wynne was clear in her June 13th media statement. She will soon appoint a new Cabinet and bring back the legislature on July 2. She says she will present the same budget that triggered the election and push to get it quickly approved. She claims this will help to create jobs and a retirement plan; invest in education and communities and begin to reduce the deficit. Her government wants to balance the budget in the 2017-18 fiscal year.  She said this will be hard work. I agree.

The tough work comes from how to do these things all at once. Saving and spending are tough to do without borrowing. Herein is the threat to OPSEU members and public services. To get to this target, Wynne will turn to asset sales, private public partnerships, asset recycling and all the other programs that pass these days for privatization

This threat exists across all OPSEU Divisions, from the LCBO to the smallest community agency or non-profit. Business groups think they can profit from licensing, blood collection, children’s services, education, alcohol sales, inspection, health care, mental health and many other services. This government may think it is good to lease or sell existing public services to the private sector at a price, and then allow the service to be provided with a profit margin added. That profit will then flow to the private sector for an extended period.

Today, Ontario already has fewer public sector workers (per 1,000 population) than any other province. We pay the least for these services (per capita) than any other province. With this efficiency, profits will come from higher costs paid by service users; reductions to the services; or the lower compensation to staff providing the service. The first 100 days of any new government are critical.

While we should all enjoy time to recharge this summer, OPSEU will lobby for improvements to the Liberal budget; set out measures by which new policies and actions by government should be judged and report to the public when there are abuses, corruption or inefficiencies. OPSEU members care about the work they do.

It is not easy to be a politician, always dependent on elections and the public will. It is also not easy to be a public sector worker, faced with tough situations, harsh conditions and the constant pressure of doing more with less.

Members of a strong and united OPSEU will continue their role as service providers, advocates and whistle blowers.  We’ll work hard for Ontario’s people. We’ll protect the services we provide. Public services should not be provided for a profit. In a democracy, an active union and a knowing public can force change, even from a majority government.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

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