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Not business as usual in Ontario

Nursing student against Ford
Carolyn Egan

May 17, 2019

The Ford government in Ontario won a majority in the provincial legislature with 40% of those casting a ballot voting for the Progressive Conservative Party. 60% rejected its poorly defined platform and feared what was to come, having seen Doug Ford’s work as a city councillor in Toronto. His mean-spirited approach to municipal politics in league with his now deceased brother, mayor Rob Ford, show a contempt for publicly-funded services and an alliance with developers and the wealthy.

He later lost a race to become mayor of the city and he’s a man who bears a grudge.

He has now brought his neoliberal agenda to the province as a whole and in less than a year has tried to change the face of Ontario.

One of his first steps was to roll back the victory of a $15 minimum wage which was to come into effect on January 1, 2019. This callous disregard for those who work at poverty wages, primarily women of colour, and who struggled along with so many others to fight for a better economic future for themselves and their families typifies his contempt for working class people and the poor. This was just the start.

The Ford government is slashing hospital budgets, taking away access to postsecondary education for low income students, laying off teachers and increasing class sizes, decimating public health, cutting library services and on and on it goes. It is an onslaught against programs that have taken generations to win, and he and his well-heeled cronies at Queen’s Park laugh as they vote to destroy what so many depend on to maintain a semblance of a decent life.

They are not invulnerable. We have seen the government take a step back when farmers and Indigenous people fought back against allowing development in the green belt that surrounds Toronto. They did the same when the families of those with autism demonstrated at the legislature against their attempt to cut programming. This has given hope to those millions who feel we can organize against these vicious attacks by an uncaring government hell bent on doing away with the social safety net, attacking labour safeguards, and ignoring the threat of climate change.

There is a tremendous anger at the base of society as more and more of the cuts roll out. A city councillor in Toronto called for a walk out on May Day. Another stated clearly that people will die if the attacks on public health are allowed to continue, speaking of the poisoned water in Walkerton and the SARS crisis, both in living memory.

The labour movement cannot go on with business as usual. People from communities across the province are crying out for a broad and sustained movement of resistance.

The stewards assemblies were important steps, the 40,000 teachers on the lawns of the provincial legislature, the hundred thousand students who walked out of their classrooms, the health care demonstration, are pointing the way forward.

Union leaders, local and provincial, have to put their ears to the ground and hear the clamoring for a real fight back that people are demanding.

We have the example of the Days of Action in the Harris years of the 1990s when general strikes shut down city after city only to have labour leaders get cold feet and stop the mobilizations before a province wide strike. This led to demoralization and the reelection of Harris. It didn’t have to be that way.

The mood in Ontario has changed since the election. More and more are disillusioned with this government. The trade unions, working with diverse allies from every community, have to do the work of mobilizing the sentiment that is there. “Organize, Educate, Resist” was the slogan against Harris and it speaks to exactly what has to be done to day. Ford can be beaten.

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