Personal prosperity and social justice – why are these ideals often polarized? Can they coexist? Why do politicians oppose an overlap when trade unions have united the ideals for decades?
Fact (and the key to Ontario’s future): a strong and growing middle class comprised of working people with financial resources to buy – stimulate growth and pay taxes.
Unity rather than separation was, during decades of nation building, the creed for Ontario and Canada. We were proud to display peace, order and good government. After all, it brought us universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance and other social programs – all reduced barriers for success for many individuals.
Education, tolerance and innovation promoted that all people should have equal access to opportunity. This did not bring Utopia, but improvements were clear. Ontario and Canada succeeded as progressive models, copied by others.
Then the climate changed. Corporate power pushed back with an assault on the battlefield of globalization.
Globalization seemed, at first, to be a progressive way to raise the living standards for all people. By opening borders and reducing regulations, prosperity would reduce differences that had led to conflict. By sharing riches, peace and progress would follow. It sounded so simple.
Yet there was something sinister at play. The labour movement, about 35 years ago, spotted this. Removing barriers and regulations could also mean fewer human rights, labour laws, health and safety standards and environmental protections. Instead of raising up the lives of other working people, Canadian workers could lose hard-won standards that came from union principles, social movements and hard fights.
The results speak for themselves. While standards for the world's most disadvantaged did improve slightly, most Canadian standards nosedived.
While unions and social justice organizations continue to fight these changes, we are often marginalized as greedy, self-interested job killers both in the media and political debates. Our leaders are called union bosses rather than visionary leaders.
The reality is that (based on a report from Food Banks Canada in 2012) 882,188 Canadians turned to food banks on a regular basis, up from the previous year. This will alienate a generation of young people who already face bleak job prospects while their aging parents face decades of financial uncertainty. This is a national disgrace. What makes this worse is that it didn't have to be this way.
People are easily fooled by corporate messages. Their message is amplified by media organizations owned by corporations. The media becomes a cheerleader for political parties supported by their owners. Their owners are rich individuals or people with funds to invest in the media organization shares. (Neither sound like you nor me.) All too often this results in ever more extreme, right wing messages. Democracy is dramatically weakened.
What can you expect when politicians hand out appointments as rewards for jobs well done? Former reporters become senior political advisors, media advisors, Senators or even Governors or Lieutenant Governor Generals.
What did these people do to gain these rewards? Not much. They kept to the party line, dictated by corporations, against the principles of social justice and personal prosperity that historically made Ontario and Canada great.
They printed headlines and wrote speeches based on catchy slogans, sinister in their simplicity: “Do More with Less"; "Government Should Run Like a Business"; "Tighten Your Belts"; or "Live Within Your Means".
These corporate slogans came from lavish boardrooms designed for trickery and deceit, nuanced to inspire hope, while opening the door to a widened income gap between the rich and the rest of society.
The public has accepted much of this message. Business men and women have been elected to public office based on their promise to turn government around by privatizing, downsizing, outsourcing, cutting taxes, and slashing the "bloated" public service.
Yet, when this was done, deficits mounted. Their response: cut front line staff some more.
Picture a funnel turned upside down. That is how business and government now work. Money flows almost entirely to managers, CEO's and shareholders away from customers, clients and workers. Front line workers struggle to meet growing client needs with diminished resources.
Let’s check some numbers. In 1976, all Ontario public sector employees numbered (as reported by Statistics Canada) 830,800. By 2012, the number had increased to over 1.3 million. During this same period, OPSEU’s OPS bargaining unit declined from about 80,000 to 39,000 (classified & unclassified) individuals.
Today, Ontario has a deficit double the size it was in about 1980, when the OPS bargaining unit is twice the size it is today.
Why? Ontario is now running like a business. Working people delivering services decline while supervisor, consultant, manager, assistant deputy minister, chairperson and privatized agency worker numbers explode.
This is not how it was supposed to be. Government and its services should benefit all. Business people and their ideals, with a dedication to the bottom line, have failed us. The loss has been at society’s expense. Trust equity isn't their forte.
Corporations have no business in government. And neither does the media. That cozy relationship has to end.
We must demonstrate how personal prosperity and social justice can again build a stronger and more prosperous province. Business will not lead the way or provide the motivation for growth based on equity, access and balance. We need policies that work for society, not against it!