This isn’t just a health care crisis

OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren 'Smokey' Thomas

Saying our hospitals are “on the brink of collapse,” the Premier has declared the second state of emergency in less than a year.

Our province is in crisis. But we can’t make the mistake of thinking this is just a health crisis. Or that the crisis will be solved once we’re all vaccinated. Neither is true.

There’s only one thing that’s going to get us through this crisis and protect us against the next one: significant investment in our public services.

For decades, our leaders have been pushing all of our public services towards the brink of collapse.

In budget after budget, front-line public sector workers have been told to do more and more with less and less. In almost every year of the past four decades, Ontario has come dead last in the amount we invest per person in public services.

That’s the real crisis.

We wouldn’t have to endure these lockdowns if our hospitals hadn’t already been pushed to the brink. Even before the pandemic, patients were being crammed into hallways and conference rooms.

All of our public services are facing the same problem.

Workers in long-term care have tried to raise the alarm for years. But it wasn’t until the death toll began to mount and the military had to be called in that the public and our leaders finally started to see the truth.

Colleges and universities have had to crank up tuition rates and squeeze more and more of their faculty and staff with low wages and precarious working conditions.

The OPS and Corrections have been steadily asking front-line workers to do more with less, piling on the caseloads and squeezing more and more people into existing programs and facilities.

The LCBO has been steadily losing market share to privatization, cranking up the healthcare and justice costs we bear from alcohol use while reducing the public dividends we earn from alcohol sales.

And in our schools and social services, a toxic combination of cuts and privatization have left us less and less able to tackle scourges like poverty, addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. The same can be said for almost every public service-related position. Cuts and cutbacks.

But we’re in a moment when we can finally start to tackle these crises.

In the last budget, the provincial government broke with the tradition of blaming and cutting front-line public services and workers and started putting a little money back into the system.

And as the government prepares its next budget, I’ll be urging it to continue down this new path.

Stopping the cuts is a good start. But to get us through our current problems and to be able to cope with the next crisis, we need meaningful investment in all of our public services. That can only be achieved one way, and that is by expanding capacity. Now.

In Solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas


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