Building a brand new normal starts with the budget

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With the 2021 Budget on the horizon, I’m reminded that budgets aren’t just numbers on a page, they embody our values and aspirations.

Will this year’s provincial budget reflect our collective aspirations in this COVID era – for investment to rebuild public sector capacity? To create, not cut? We’ll soon know.

In the meantime, our great union will keep pushing for a brand new normal: a better Ontario, where public services are well supported and the workers who provide them are treated with respect and dignity.

In the past year, we have been able to get this government to listen to us. Our persistence and solidarity in these pandemic times has paid off.

Take last fall’s budget as an example. It was the first budget in decades with no major cuts to the public sector. It celebrated the passion, dedication and heroism of front-line public sector workers, and finally recognized the value of strong public services.

It was a good start, but building a brand new normal will take even more – like the repeal of Bill 124 and a provincial budget that puts public money where it should go – in public services.

Ontario’s public sector workers have dedicated their lives to supporting our province and its people. It shouldn’t take a global health crisis to see their value. Their everyday heroism has been the hallmark of public service long before COVID-19.

And in this COVID era, it’s become so obvious that simply saying ‘thanks’ or calling workers heroes isn’t enough. Front-line public sector workers deserve decent wages, permanently. Job security, health and safety and stability matter too.

Our province’s economic recovery depends on it; we can’t cut or restructure our way out of this crisis. When workers are paid more, they spend more. Workers support local and Canadian businesses, and that stimulates our economy.

So, as we begin to round the corner and see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we can’t accept a return to austerity. It’s what got us into this mess and it’s part of the reason we were hit by this pandemic so unprepared.

Looking back, we can see that we might not have needed these endless lockdowns if our health care system hadn’t been so starved. Now, we must look forward and focus on building capacity in our health care system, and across the public sector, so that we’re better prepared to respond to future crises.

Ontario’s 2021 Budget is our opportunity to build a better province so we can come out of this pandemic stronger than ever. Budgets are vision documents and after 25 years of austerity and a year of pandemic turmoil, Ontarians are looking forward.

That work has begun. The new Cortellucci Vaughan hospital will be the first new hospital opened in three decades. That’s good news. And with its recently announced PSW program, the Ford government has also responded to our call to have more workers trained by our public colleges in an effort to address critical staff shortages.

Now, it’s the time to address infrastructure and staffing shortages across the entire public sector. It’s time to end our failed relationship with privatization and remove the profit incentive from hard-hit sectors like long-term care.

We’ve got plenty of room for improvement. Ontario still invests less per person in public services than any other province in Canada, and it would take an increase of $25-30 billion in this year’s budget and beyond just to reach the national average.

We need an injection of funding that stretches far beyond the pandemic. We need a bold investment that will build capacity, and ultimately, a brand new normal.

We can, and must, do better.

In solidarity,

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
@OPSEUEddy
facebook.com/OPSEUEddy

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