Responding to the March Budgets


The federal and provincial governments, in their budget speeches made one thing perfectly clear- there can be no March break for the middle class, the poor or the vulnerable. Clearly the interest of the majority has been sold out in favour of the privileged few. But even with these statements from government, has the penny really dropped for Ontarians? I hope so!

Speaking of the penny, its elimination will mean Canadians will face price increases as things get rounded to the nearest nickel. That means millions of transactions every day will now benefit corporate Canada. Think of how Alberta energy interests will gain through higher fuel prices. Consider how increases in prices reduce consumption. This will have a marked negative effect on Ontario’s ravaged industrial and manufacturing sectors.

How far will Finance Minister Flaherty go to destroy Ontario’s prospects? The province that rejected his ideology over a decade ago, when as part of the Harris regime, he was a leading cabinet minister.

If the effect of higher prices isn’t bad enough, 19,000 jobs will be lost in the Ottawa region with reductions to the federal public service.

What else? Well, Canadians will now have to wait until age 67 to collect their old age security. Meanwhile, Members of Parliament will continue to receive gold plated entitlements. Their pension qualification thresholds do not match normal factor 80 or factor 90 standards. Once an MP has serviced for just 7 years, they become entitled to a pension. A very sweet deal indeed, paid for by the people of Canada.

In Ontario we just witnessed a Jekyll and Hyde budget. Talk about a two-sided tale.

On the one hand Liberals spoke about the importance of health care and their deep respect for collective bargaining.

Next, the budget speech set out government’s intention to breach the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by legislation of a wage freeze, when necessary. Let’s be clear about what this means. If the Liberals can’t get their way with unions, they’ll work with their Conservative allies to pass bills that attack free collective bargaining and pensions. Tim Hudak and the Conservatives will oblige of course, while grumbling that the government attack should go even further.

Finance Minister Duncan boasted that the McGuinty government cares about education. Next, the budget speech ended the option for students to spread their high school programs over 5 years.

Duncan also touted that his government cared about health and general community wellbeing. Then he set out plans to have large increases in gambling and greater numbers of liquor stores. He also failed to assure that the new liquor stores would be operated by the LCBO. He also ignored the possibility of increasing revenues by repatriating current large volume private agency stores. (These large volume agency stores are bad for Ontario as the discount they get on liquor and beer far exceeds the cost of running a government store, constituting a hidden subsidy to the private sector from the pockets of average Ontarians.) 

The McGuinty/Duncan budget will also wipe out 60,000 jobs in rural Ontario. The jobs come from the horse racing industry. This is a cold political calculation based on the fact that few voters in rural areas supported the Liberals. What a way to govern for all the people!

Finance Minister Duncan also spoke of his respect for a public sector that is the leanest and most efficient in Canada. He then announced plans to further enhance the role of the private sector in providing public services. I guess for Duncan, the ORNGE (air ambulance) fiasco was just an anomaly, like E health, the highway 407 privatization and so many others. By this failure in understanding, Duncan continues to miss that government isn’t a business. It can’t be operated like business. In fact, the business sector has no business in government.

Was there anything good to be said about the budget? Well, there were two bright spots.

One was the uploading of Ontario Works to the province. That should relieve some pressure from cash-strapped municipalities and municipal ratepayers.

The other glimmer of hope was a vague reference to a “Jobs and Prosperity Commission”. This Commission could bring together leaders from business, labour, community, government and the opposition to constructively and cooperatively meet as equals to work towards a prosperous Ontario. OPSEU and the Steel Workers suggested just this in a joint letter to the Premier (published recently in the Toronto Star, Sun and Globe and Mail). This group, as good stewards of the economy, would develop an industrial strategy to benefit this generation and the next. OPSEU is lobbying hard to have a strong role in developing terms of reference and membership for this commission.

Predictably, Conservative party leader Tim Hudak trashed the budget speech and indicated, even before its release, that he would defeat the bill. That kind of provocation and hyperbole does not lead to a better Ontario.

To her credit, NDP leader Andrea Horwath took the high road by turning to Ontarians for input before releasing a final position. As party leader, Andrea has developed and grown. This is why she now easily out polls her two rivals on leadership qualities. I admire her dedication to all of Ontarians. She has displayed that she is a great ally to working people and the vulnerable. She offers a steady, compassionate approach as well as understanding that jobs, affordability, health care and fairness top the list for average people.

We are the targets of a cowardly, ineffective budget that is nothing more than a desperate attempt by Dalton and his crew to maintain power. So sisters and brothers, our work is cut out. In typical OPSEU fashion we will campaign against these lies, half- truths and propaganda points. Based on past experience we know that in the end, truth always wins out.

If necessary we will pursue our right to collectively bargain to the highest court. We will fight for every worker’s right to retire in dignity. We will ensure that our children and grandchildren will be handed a democratic Ontario where everyone has the opportunity to succeed.  

While we may be bloodied and bruised we will proudly represent the hopes and dreams of a growing coalition of community, business and political partners. Our effort will be a marathon rather than a sprint. See you at the finish line. That’s why we are proudly OPSEU members. OPSEU, Ontario’s Union.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President

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