I’ve always said that polls are like elevators – sometimes they go up, and sometimes they go down.
But the results of a poll that OPSEU commissioned last month are unlike any that I’ve ever seen in my 40 years as a union activist.
Our poll, and others out there right now, are telling an exciting story for us – the pandemic has opened more people’s eyes to the value of the work we do and they are now calling for exactly the same kind of changes that we’ve been championing for decades.
Let me walk you through it.
In late May, we hired pollster Nik Nanos to ask more than 1,000 Ontarians a variety of questions about their thoughts on government priorities, public services, and the front-line workers who provide them.
It’s not the first time we’ve done polling like this, people have shown their strong support for public services in the past. However in the previous polls, most folks also indicated they didn’t think we could afford to invest more in public services because our debt is already too deep and our taxes are already too high.
Not this time. After two months of this pandemic, most Ontarians have radically changed their tune.
Take the deficit. We all know COVID-19 has forced our governments to spend more – a lot more. And yet when we asked people what they think the government’s priority should be, the deficit was way down the list – barely a quarter said they think it’s “important.”
So what should be the government’s priority instead? Ontarians were pretty much unanimous: fix our health care and long-term care systems and improve public services in general.
88 per cent said it’s “important” for the government to fix the system responsible for the bulk of COVID-19 deaths in the province. Same story when we asked about improving the health care system as a whole. 78 per cent said it’s “important.”
We all know that improving public services comes at a financial cost. So we asked Ontarians who they thought should bear that cost.
When we’ve asked this kind of question in the past, I’ve always been tempted to put on my helmet and pads because I knew I was about to take some hits. Cutting public service jobs and salaries has often been high on people’s lists.
But not this time. When we asked how the government should reduce the deficit, just eight per cent said they “support” the idea of cutting public services. A full 50 per cent said they outright “oppose” that idea and another 22 per cent said they “somewhat oppose” it. Cut public service salaries? Only 18 per cent support. Cut public service jobs? Just 16 per cent support.
So if most folks don’t want to see cuts to public services or the workers like us providing them, how can we afford the investments in public services the vast majority want?
Simple: raise taxes on those who aren’t currently paying their fair share.
55 per cent say they “support” raising taxes for the wealthy, and another 26 per cent “somewhat support it.” 42 per cent also “support” raising corporate taxes and 34 per cent “somewhat support.”
I’ve never seen numbers that so closely reflect the values that we share as public sector workers.
So if polls really are like an elevator, it’s time for us to encourage everybody to get off on the floor we’ve arrived at now. Strong public services. Respect for front-line workers. Fair taxes for all. It’s home.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas