I watched with interest as you presented the 2014 Ontario budget. After witnessing the full performance I was impressed. Like President Thomas, I took the time to read and scrutinize the document. That is why we can’t congratulate you (as some said) for the “most left-leaning budget since the Bob Rae NDP.” As a political document it was brilliant skullduggery. While you can’t fool all the people all the time; it did fool 39 per cent of Ontarians long enough for them to hand your party a majority.
Your party even escaped scrutiny around your long-standing scandals, as strategic voters flocked to your new and shiny “activist centre.” Positioning yourself to the left of the “Tea Party” Tories paid political dividends. All the while, the media attack on the NDP’s centrist positioning didn’t hurt your cause either. Suddenly, a socially progressive and fiscally responsible NDP was viewed as populist, even though electoral post mortems identified the centre as a political sweet spot for most Ontarians.
Instead of a political debate, the battle cry became: “Stop the Tories and their war against public services and public sector workers” even though most people should have realized the Hudak Tories would shoot themselves with their extremism. Many Ontarians lived through the Harris years and were not ready to revisit that wasted decade.
So, Minister Sousa, with all this as a backdrop, your budget did not get the scrutiny it needed. Had that examination taken place, the truth would have been exposed when it mattered—at election time. The fact is this budget is about cuts…cuts needed to pay for the Premier’s legacy programs. Your ten-year assumptions are fragile. One crisis could sidetrack it all.
Speaking as OPSEU Treasurer to Ontario Treasurer, you are wrong on your premise that a zero per cent wage increase for public sector workers is the path to prosperity. We need leadership rather than stagnation on the wage front. Freezing wages hurts working people and the economy. A wage freeze is a cut, given that the inflation rate continues to grow, biting ever further into what each “take home” dollar will buy.
With less buying power people have two choices. One is to cut their spending. The other is to increase their debt. Both have disastrous results.
To the first option, Ontario has a consumer-driven economy. Less disposable income means fewer goods and services purchased. This reduces demand for goods and service built or provided by other Ontarians. That results in even higher unemployment.
The second option is also ominous. To keep pace, many people borrow to their credit limits. An economy based on cheap credit cannot compete with an economy based on good paying jobs and wage increases that keep pace with inflation. Sooner or later, with an event like a spike in interest rates, it will all tumble down.
Then, who gets hurt? Not the rich, who benefit from lending money or investing their funds outside of the Ontario economy, while paying low provincial income taxes. Not corporations, who operate in a low-tax Ontario, while pushing down the wages and benefits of workers.
Working people will suffer. Contrary to believers in trickle-down economics, cheap money has not created more or better-paying jobs. It has encouraged stockpiling of cash, in anticipation of higher interest rates.
Wage freezes hurt government revenues. Income taxes depend on income. Mr. Minister, what would your books look like if all Ontario workers received appropriate annual wage increases? Income tax revenues would increase, as would the Ontario share of the HST. Those workers would spend that money in the Ontario economy, rather than hoarding it in banks and non-productive funds, like the rich do.
The Government can be a model employer. It is in your power to lead the way. Say “no” to ever lower wages and wage freezes. You can set the trend for all Ontario workers. Send that signal of change. It is the right thing to do.
Instead, your government is on a different course. You may be caught in the force field generated by Bay Street, and its investors, who are happy with a low wages and precarious employment for most workers. The stock market, currently at record highs, seems to point to this.
Stop talking about freezes and zeroes as a good thing for the economy. Talk about fair wages instead. You have an important job ahead. As you do it, remember that working people have paid the price already. “Hope” is a hollow political spin word unless it comes with action. For just a while, put working people first.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida,