The public sector in Ontario is on the block.
It’s bad enough that Premier Kathleen Wynne has ordered Treasury Board President Deb Matthews to keep on cutting programs and wages. Ontario already has the lowest per capita program spending of any province in Canada, and it should be obvious to anyone that what public services need is more revenue, not more cuts.
But to make things worse, Wynne wants to privatize more public services and sell more public assets to private investors. This will downgrade services, cost us more, and put good middle-class jobs at risk – all in the name of profit.
When she was Minister of Health, Deb Matthews refused to let public hospital labs do diagnostic testing for patients in the community. The fact that private lab tests cost more didn’t seem to matter to Matthews.
It should. That’s why we need to push back. We need to tell the people of Ontario the truth: we could save at least $175 million a year by making full use of our public hospital labs.
Recently, Kathleen Wynne put Matthews in charge of “modernizing” Information Technology (IT) services in the Ontario Public Service. What she really means is contracting out. So far, this has meant paying private contractors double what it costs to have OPSEU members do exactly the same work.
We need to tell Ontario: we could save at least $200 million a year by keeping OPS IT services in-house.
Then there is the issue of public assets. Kathleen Wynne has tapped bank CEO Ed Clark to figure out ways to get more money out of three of the four biggest Crown agencies: Ontario Power Generation, Hydro One, and the LCBO. Selling any of them would make no sense, of course; they all have a vital public policy role and pour billions into the treasury. But Clark has not ruled anything out. Apparently he likes the idea of selling public assets and using the money to build new ones (more on this later).
Clark is not limiting himself to deciding whether or not to sell the LCBO. With instructions to “sweat the assets,” he is, according to reports, looking at every possible way to change the way the LCBO works. He is, for example, looking at “job reclassifications.” This is code for cutting wages, of course. It’s a bit rich coming from a man who makes $12 million a year.
We have to persuade Clark to look elsewhere for money. At the LCBO, the government could raise at least $50 million a year by cutting back on the Agency Stores Program, which allows private operators to sell liquor in at least 100 communities that would be better served by a real LCBO store.
Like governments around the world, the Wynne government is using concerns about the deficit as a smokescreen to transfer money and assets from people who make their money by working to people who make their money by investing. Workers get reduced services, higher costs, and a more unequal society. Investors just get richer.
In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll be encouraging OPSEU members to learn more about privatization and start pushing back. You can start right now by reading our newest publication, Better, Cheaper, Fairer: the case for contracting in of public services in Ontario.
Watch this space for more news of our fightback.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union