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February 19, 2013 - Vol. 2 No. 24

Wynne Takes Over Where McGuinty Left Off

Legislature Opens Amidst Growing Affirmation of Rights and Opposition to Austerity

August 28, 2012, mass action of teachers and education workers and their allies prior to prorogation at Queen's Park
against Bill 115, the
Putting Students First Act.

Wynne Takes Over Where McGuinty Left Off
Legislature Opens Amidst Growing Affirmation of Rights and Opposition to Austerity - Enver Villamizar
Where McGuinty Left Off and What to Expect - Dan Cerri

Public Right Yes! Monopoly Right No!
Government to Impose Transit Taxes - Rob Woodhouse
Anti-Social Cuts and New Arrangements in Emergency Housing Supports - Sylvia Etts

Health Care Is a Right!
Province Withholds Promised Investments to Windsor Hospital
Rally Opposes Cuts to Medical Services in Niagara Region - Ron Walker
Liberals Pave the Way for Harris' Pink Flowered Car

Wynne Takes Over Where McGuinty Left Off

Legislature Opens Amidst Growing Affirmation of Rights and Opposition to Austerity

The opening of the Legislature is taking place amid continued affirmation of rights and opposition to austerity by the workers' opposition. Since the passage of the austerity budget by the Liberals and PCs with the NDP abstaining on March 27, workers immediately took their own stands against the budget and the austerity measures it put forward. This was clearly expressed with a mass rally at Queen's Park on April 21.

April 21, 2012 mass action of Ontario workers against austerity

Since then teachers, education workers, students, and workers from different sectors of the economy have continued to be in action to oppose the implementation of the austerity agenda, holding another mass action on August 28 at the Legislature, along with many local actions. All of this mobilization formed public opinion for the recognition of the fact that the fight to defeat Bill 115 is a fight for the rights of all in society and against the theft of billions from education to pay the rich. The test of this and of the capacity of the working class to take an independent stand in its own interest was the resounding defeat of both the Liberals and PCs -- those who had passed Bill 115 and staked their electoral fortunes on it in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election.

December 13, 2012, Queen's Park, rally of thousands of high school and elementary students
from across Toronto
against Bill 115 .

The Legislature was prorogued by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty on October 15. Prorogation was an attempt to sidetrack this growing opposition. It was an attempt to "reset" the austerity agenda through backroom deal-making while seeking to calm the workers' opposition. During prorogation however, the Liberals, egged on by the PCs, continued to use their prerogative powers to implement all manner of anti-social attacks on Ontarians that had been passed in their budget. At the same time, the working class of Ontario stepped up its actions to affirm its rights and oppose these attacks. Demonstrations were held weekly outside many MPPs' offices, large actions were held at the Liberal Leadership debates, students held walkouts and rallied in their thousands at Queen's Park, elementary and secondary teachers and other education workers voted massively in favour of strike action and held regular pickets in front of their schools. This growing opposition showed its strength once again with a mass rally of some 30,000 people at the Liberal Leadership Convention where Kathleen Wynne was selected as leader and premier. Since her selection as Premier Wynne continues to try and avoid dealing with the demand that governments affirm the rights of the people instead of violating them. Instead she has put forward the call for "fairness" in implementing austerity. This is to divert from the demands being put forward by the Workers' Opposition in Ontario:

No to Austerity!
Hold Governments to Account!
Repeal the Austerity Measures in Bill 115!

January 26, 2013 march outside the Liberal leadership convention at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto

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Where McGuinty Left Off and What to Expect

The most apparent trend in the Legislature before prorogation was anti-worker legislation, as was passed against teachers, education workers and those in the broader public sector. The passing of Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, on September 11, 2012 by the Liberals and PCs made clear direction the government intended to take.

There were other attempts to attack the rights of public sector workers in the same vein as Bill 115, namely the draft legislation introduced by recently resigned Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, the Protecting Public Services Act. The draft legislation sought to pass a continued wage freeze for non-unionized public sector employees whose wages have already been frozen for the last two years. It also sought to subject collective bargaining for unionized employees in the same sector to greater government control, including through changes to the arbitration system. The draft legislation would have given the Minister veto power and the ability to impose conditions for negotiated agreements, including wage restraints. The Minister would also have the ability to nullify an arbitrator's decision.[1]

September 5, 2012, thousands of public servants demonstrate at Queen's Park against government's threat to
legislate contracts.

The Hudak PCs introduced their own version of changes to the interest arbitration system with a private member's bill, the Ability to Pay Act, 2012. They also introduced another private member's bill, Bill 70, the Trust in Arbitration Act, 2012, which passed first reading on April 18. It seeks to set up a commission that will oversee all collective bargaining disputes under the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, 1997, the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act, the Ontario Provincial Police Collective Bargaining Act, 2006 and the Police Services Act where the commission's decisions will be final and cannot be challenged in court. No doubt the program to put in place new arrangements in interest arbitration will once again be on the agenda in this sitting.

In its March 27 budget, the McGuinty government also announced its intention to introduce legislation to attack the pensions of public sector workers. It called for capping contribution increases so any future shortfalls have to be covered by decreased benefits (making their defined benefit plans into de facto defined contribution plans), reducing employer contributions on pensions where employers pay more than 50 per cent of contributions (even where these ratios were the result of previously negotiated agreements) and forcing mergers of smaller pension plans with bigger plans.[2]

The agenda of the Legislature prior to prorogation was clearly preparing to extend the austerity measures of Bill 115 to all workers in the public sector in a similar manner -- through ministerial powers to dictate wage freezes and cuts and by eroding workers' benefits, all within the overall aim of siphoning money from the public purse to pay the rich. If implemented, it will lead to further deterioration in the standard of living of non unionized employees and the deterioration of collective bargaining to accomplish the same aim for unionized workers to free up cash to continue dishing out huge payouts to the monopolies, as was the case recently with Toyota and other private interests in the name of "job creation."

What to Expect in the Coming Sitting

The reopening of the Legislature on February 19 is being used to give a "fresh face" to the same agenda put forward by McGuinty and Hudak through attempting to "reset" the agenda in order to hide its illegitimacy. It is an attempt once again to silence the workers' opposition by giving the illusion that peoples' rights will be affirmed in the Legislature through a new "balanced approach" based on "fairness."

The new premier, Kathleen Wynne has pledged to reconstitute all of the Legislature's committees, including those that will oversee the continued implementation of the austerity agenda passed last spring. The Hudak PCs have released a number of "white papers" to further push this agenda. Horwath's NDP have taken up the Liberals' call for "fairness", saying they want a "balanced approach to balancing the budget." Wynne has also said she will work with the other parties to implement their ideas in the next budget. This prepares the ground for a Throne Speech that will put forward the austerity agenda using proposals from both the PCs and NDP in the name of fairness. Meanwhile the attacks on rights expressed in Bill 115 and the austerity measures it contained will be extended to other sectors in a "fair" manner.

The "new" Legislature is signalling no opposition to austerity and that each party is involved in fighting over whose methods are best suited to implementing an illegitimate agenda that serves only the interests of the monopolies and other private interests at the expense of the people, their social programs and society.


1. See Ontario Political Forum, October 1, 2012 - Vol. 2 No. 1.
2. See Ontario Political Forum, October 10, 2012 - Vol. 2 No. 2.

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Public Right Yes! Monopoly Right No!

Government to Impose Transit Taxes

In one of her first acts as the new Liberal Leader and Premier, Kathleen Wynne announced she intends to create a revenue stream for funding urban transit expansion by sharply increasing personal taxes. While personal taxes are to increase, her government will continue to impose funding cuts on education, health and other social programs in the name of deficit reduction. This means that her government will continue to pay the rich in the name of a healthy economy. It is a scam.

In a press conference, Wynne said urban transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is "the number one condition that we need to get right in terms of economic growth." She said some form of increased personal taxes and user fees will be imposed to fund the plan of the government transit agency Metrolinx for a $50 billion expansion of urban transit in the GTHA. "It's not whether we're going to create a revenue stream it's which tools we're going to use," Wynne said. The tools being considered include an increase in sales tax, gas tax, property tax and income tax and increased road tolls and transit user fees

In response to questions, Wynne admitted that any form of a personal tax grab for transit will be unpopular among the majority of the electorate but said she would push ahead anyway: "I'm not saying we won't have to spend political capital to get a revenue stream in place -- we absolutely will. But if people want to see new infrastructure, if they want to see the transit that we need in the GTHA we are going to have to raise the revenue."

A broad alliance of the rich and their political representatives is forming around the scheme for extracting more personal taxes from working people in the name of urban transit funding. The parties pushing the austerity agenda are on board for squeezing more tax revenue from working people. Wynne expressed confidence that she has the ruling elite behind her. "You've got all the city-builders and thinkers saying it, the people in CivicAction, the people at the Toronto Board of Trade and those are businesspeople," she said. "They recognize that it's critical for their businesses that this happen so I'm very convinced that this is the moment that we have to step forward."

The Conservatives are also supporting transit taxes. Conservative leader Tim Hudak has joined the call for a transit tax and former Conservative Leader John Tory is leading an all out propaganda campaign by the monopoly media in favour of transit taxes.

In her media comments, Wynne did a political sleight of hand that reveals the anti-social character of the transit tax scheme. Wynne said the rich support expansion of transit because "it's critical for their businesses that this happen." Yet, she says the public has to pay increased personal taxes to provide this critical support for businesses.

Wynne and all of the media reports on transit expansion quote a Board of Trade study that says planned transit projects will add $6 billion in value to the economy of the GTHA each year. But this presents the questions: Why does the government have to raise taxes if the transit expansion will produce so much wealth in the economy? Why not just use some of the $6 billion a year of value created by transit expansion to fund it?

The problem is that the $6 billion of value created in the economy by transit is realized as increased profits by private interests such as employers, retailers, commercial landlords, real estate developers, land speculators, entertainment promoters and so on. They will be claiming as profit value put into the economy by workers in every aspect of transit -- vehicle manufacturing, construction, maintenance and operation. Private interests are able to claim increased profits from the economy because of transit expansion without being required to put anything back in. Value created in the economy by transit is being claimed by free riding private interests and this is why the question comes up -- how to pay for transit?

Urban transit has been underfunded for many years in the GTHA and expansion of transit is urgently needed. The way the government is arranging the expansion and funding of transit though is unacceptable. Rich free riders will be claiming all the wealth transit creates while working people will have increased personal taxes and increased user fees hung around their necks to pay for it.

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Anti-Social Cuts and New Arrangements in
Emergency Housing Supports

October 13, 2012, Hamilton rally and march opposes government's cuts to social assistance.

People who rely on social assistance and anti-poverty organizations have been carrying out actions throughout the province to oppose the Liberal government's plan for drastic cuts to funds available to poor people during housing crises and other emergencies. Several municipalities have also spoken out against these cuts because of the impact they will have on the ability of municipalities to deliver emergency housing support to poor residents.

Among the actions carried out against cuts to emergency support funds were repeated demonstrations in Kitchener-Centre, the riding of Liberal MPP John Milloy who was Minister of Community and Social Services at the time. Protesters demanded that the homeless and the poor not be treated as budget items but as human beings with rights to livelihoods, housing and adequate food. They demanded a continuation of the emergency funds programs.

In the 2012 austerity budget announced last spring, the Liberal government eliminated the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit (CSUMB) effective December 31, 2012 and the Home Repairs Benefit (HRB) effective June 31, 2012. The CSUMB and the HRB are funds people on social assistance could access in an emergency. Each month 16,000 people accessed these funds, usually for housing emergencies. These emergency programs had been funded at $134 million a year.

The Elimination of CSUMB and HRB funds is part of a new arrangement the government is putting in place under the signboard of its "poverty reduction" strategy. Under this arrangement, all emergency housing support programs for poor families and the homeless will be consolidated into a new program, the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI). The government said that half of the "savings" from eliminating the CSUMB and HRB--$67 million--will be put into the CHPI program. The CHPI program will be administered by municipalities and the funding will be delivered through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

The government's "poverty reduction" strategy involves extending programs available to social assistance recipients to people who are low-paid workers. However, this extension of eligibility is being implemented while overall funding of these underfunded programs is being further slashed. In the case of the new CHPI program to "replace" CSUMB and HRB, employed low-income people as well as social assistance recipients will now be able to apply for emergency housing support. This will more than double the number of households that can apply for emergency housing support but the total amount of funds available will be $67 million less. Poverty reduction is another cruel Liberal "social justice" fraud!

As a result of the widespread opposition to elimination of CSUMB and HRB, the government was forced to back off from its plan for immediately chopping funding for emergency housing support. On December 27, just days before the CSUMB was eliminated, the government announced that it will provide an additional $42 million in one-time transitional funding to municipalities for emergency housing.

While anti-poverty organizations and municipalities were relieved that the funding cuts will be partially postponed for a year, the new arrangements for emergency housing support under the CHPI program and the details of the one-year transitional funding will negatively impact both municipalities and low-income households.

Transitional funding will only be provided to those municipalities that are deemed eligible for the funding by the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Deeming will be based on the share of households in a municipality that fall into "deep core housing need" as defined in the 2006 Census. A formerly statutory emergency program universally available to people on social assistance across the province becomes a discretionary program that varies according to the average housing conditions and prevailing policies in each municipality. As well, a low-income household may be eligible for emergency housing support but without the program being fully funded, eligible households will be subjected to discretionary rationing by local officials. Previously, applicants for CSUMB and HRB had the right to appeal decisions of officials but appeals have also been eliminated.

The problem of poverty and the problem of people in need of social support cannot be treated as a line on a budget. In a modern society this problem can only be resolved by the recognition of people's rights. Every person regardless of their situation, including a person who cannot work or who cannot find work, has the right to live in dignity and security because they are human beings.

The new Liberal premier along with her team and new cabinet will be held to account for ensuring these rights, regardless of her self-promotion as a disciple of social justice. Creating new arrangements that increase competition for benefits among the poor for underfunded social programs under the signboard of "poverty reduction" is unacceptable. Diverting funds from social programs into the countless pay-the-rich schemes being organized by the government is unacceptable. The government should stop paying the rich and provide the funding required for ensuring the right of everyone to a livelihood.


The Community Homelessness Partnership Initiative (CHPI) was developed from the consolidation of five existing programs, these include:
- Consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program -- households experiencing or at risk of homelessness to find and maintain stable housing and access support services;
- Emergency Energy Fund -- prevent homelessness by reducing the risk of households being evicted by providing emergency assistance to deal with payment of energy utility arrears, security deposits and reconnection fees;
- Emergency Hostel Services -- provides temporary board and lodging and for personal needs to homeless persons on an emergency basis;
- Domiciliary Hostel Program -- provides permanent housing with some supports for vulnerable adults who require limited supervision and assistance with daily activities; and,
- Provincial Rent Bank Program -- provides outstanding rent directly to landlords on behalf of tenants who, due to emergency or unforeseen circumstances, are in short term arrears and facing eviction.

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Health Care Is a Right!

Province Withholds Promised Investments to
Windsor Hospital

Twenty-four full-time and 10 part-time registered nurses received layoff notices at the Metropolitan campus of Windsor Regional Hospital earlier this month in response to a decision by the government to withhold monies it had promised to pay for opening 58 much needed new complex continuing care beds. Even though the plan for the 58 beds was approved by the ministry years ago, the government unilaterally announced in September that because of "funding constraints" it  would now be disbursing the funding over six years instead of all at once as originally promised, resulting in only ten new beds opening up per year over the next six years.

As part of announcing the layoffs, the hospital also announced it is closing approximately 30 acute care beds and is seeking approval to open the same number of complex continuing-care beds at its Tayfour Campus which houses a combination of complex continuing care beds, rehabilitation beds and specialized mental health beds.  

It is reported that the RN layoffs will be partly offset by 17 full-time and 13 new part-time Registered Practical Nurse positions.  The changes are projected to "save" the hospital $1 million annually, according to the hospital's CEO.

Referring to the cuts and layoffs, Sue Sommerdyk, the president of Local 11 of the Ontario Nurses Association stated: "Ontario is not putting the money in health care." She added that Ontario has one of the lowest per capita populations of nurses in Canada. Katha Fortier, co-chair of the Windsor-Essex Health Coalition and CAW Director of Health Care, said the cuts will be felt by the whole health care team.

"We certainly recognize the province is in a deficit but quite frankly, when we're in a deficit, eliminating good jobs from our communities and our tax base doesn't really benefit anybody in the long run," Fortier said. "We've got a bigger problem, which is underfunding of hospitals right now." Fortier said hospitals, including Windsor Regional, are already working to generate more "savings" through wage freezes and other forms of "cost control."

According to reports, about a quarter of Windsor Regional Hospital's acute care beds are currently occupied by "alternate level of care" patients -- those who really should be in a nursing home but are in hospital because of a shortage of long-term care beds in the community.  Clearly the closure of hospital beds, whatever the use, is anti-social given that, as the hospital points out, there is a long waiting list for long-term care beds in the community.  

The layoff of nurses and shuffle of beds at Windsor Regional Hospital to make up for money the hospital expected to receive from the province is a consequence of the removal of millions in public funds from health care to use for payments on the deficit.  In addition to the millions the government has now gotten off the hook for providing the hospital, it will be reducing the base funding provided to the hospital by more than $4 million as of April 2013 because of changes to the provincial funding formula used to determine its annual budget. No doubt this shortfall caused by underfunding will be used as the "constrain" to force more cuts and “consolidation” as well as to create the conditions for more use of privately built and run facilities in the name of focusing on the best service delivery possible.

In a modern society, health care must be considered a right which means it must be provided with a guarantee. Until this is the case, then access is denied to those in need based on the claim that there is no money to fund healthcare which is simply not true. There is plenty of money but it is siphoned off to serve priorities which are not based on providing human rights such as the right to health care and education with a guarantee. This must be changed so that society's path to progress can be opened instead of being kept firmly shut to pay the rich.

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Rally Opposes Cuts to Medical Services in
Niagara Region

On Saturday January 19, 150 community members from the municipalities of Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne and Wainfleet gathered at the Welland Arena to demand the Niagara Health System (NHS) delay its plan to cease the delivery of obstetric and pediatric care in the Niagara Falls and Welland Hospitals as of March 19. The NHS will "temporarily" consolidate these services with those offered at a new St. Catharines Hospital due to open on March 19. This move would see the 430,000 residents of the sprawling Niagara Region all serviced by this new hospital located in the north western corner of the region, more than an hour's drive from Fort Erie and Port Colborne, and almost an hour from Wainfleet in southern Niagara. The claim is that these services may potentially be relocated to a more central location in ten years, if a new hospital is built then.

Mayors Jim Diodatti of Niagara Falls and Barry Sharpe of Welland spoke to the meeting about the obvious inefficiencies of moving these services and all the support services. Sharpe also pointed out that it certainly did not make sense to shut the existing services before the real capacity of the St. Catharines site is determined and tested. The community members at the general assembly voted unanimously to demand a moratorium on considering any decision to cease the delivery of services at Niagara Falls and Welland before next September. Sharpe also appealed to the government-appointed NHS special supervisor, Kevin Smith to immediately reconstitute the tripartite committee of the NHS, Local Health Integration Network and elected Niagara officials to allow for consultations on all future decisions which impact the residents of the Niagara region.

Prior to 2000 many different hospitals operated in the Niagara region. Then the Ontario government created the Niagara Health System as one consolidated hospital. Not included in the new NHS was the Lincoln Memorial Community hospital and a private Catholic hospital. Later the NHS transferred the Shaver Rehabilitation Clinic to the private Catholic Hospital Board, while taking over the hospital as well.

Right from the start the Ontario government made efforts to reduce and consolidate hospital services in the region but the communities resisted. In 2009 however, using the excuse of an operating deficit created by chronic under funding, the NHS drafted a so-called Hospital Improvement Plan or HIP which declared the necessity of closing the emergency rooms at the Port Colborne General Hospital and the Fort Erie Douglas Memorial Hospital. They were reduced to "urgent care" centres and only a vigorous struggle by these communities has kept the urgent care centres operating 24/7.

When the NHS announced plans to build a new hospital to serve the residents of St. Catharines, Thorold and Niagara-on-the-Lake in 2005, it was not presented as a "regional" hospital. Later it was announced there would be a new cancer facility and heart centre at the new hospital. After the announcement of the "cost saving" HIP in 2009 it became obvious that many of the NHS services provided at other hospitals would be consolidated into the new one. Many hospital employees, including doctors, and community members pointed out the HIP was in fact an imminent threat to the viability of the existing hospitals. This is why it was not a surprise when the Ontario government-appointed supervisor Kevin Smith made his final recommendation to close all existing NHS sites outside of St. Catharines in return for the vague promise of building an another additional hospital somewhere in Niagara in ten years to serve those 430,000 Niagara residents unable to make it to St. Catharines for hospital services. Coincidentally, the new hospital was the last private-public partnership (P3) model hospital approved in Ontario; and while it claims to be, and may be state of the art, it will also generate significant additional profits for the private developers while being unable to meet the needs of the region's whole population.

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Liberals Pave the Way for Harris' Pink Flowered Car

On November 6, 2012 former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his spouse Laura announced that they were launching a Nurse Next Door franchise in Toronto. The official vehicle for this business is a pink car painted with yellow daisies that transports nursing staff to homes of seniors. Nurse Next Door, which began in Vancouver, has over 50 franchises all across Canada and two in the United States. This company provides a list of private health care services around the clock to seniors, a fast-growing demographic in Canada. It is projected that in 20 years, 25 per cent of the population will be over 65 years of age. Nurse Next Door reported a 20 per cent increase in profits in 2011. According to Harris, he and his wife are "excited" to bring this service to seniors who make up 15 per cent of Torontonians.

At the news conference announcing their plans, Laura Harris, a former nurse who will be running the day-to-day operations of the franchise, notes: "It's no secret that our population is aging and it's our responsibility to make sure our seniors continue to thrive, not just cope." She also said that "Nurse Next Door is unique in its approach to health care. We focus on not just the clinical tasks but what exactly brings happiness to our clients. We want to get our clients back to doing the things they love." Laura Harris owns several businesses, including Stadium Hostessing Services Inc., "which today provides over 200 hosts at the Rogers Centre to VIP areas and clients in corporate suites."

It was during Mike Harris' time as Premier that health care in Ontario was gutted. Harris put into motion the Health Services Restructuring Commission (HSRC) that was given statutory powers from 1996 to 2000 to expedite hospital closures and mergers, reduce medical services across the board, fire thousands of nurses and the list goes on. According to CUPE, the HSRC wound up spending four billion dollars to achieve one billion dollars in "savings."

The Liberals, egged on by the PCs, have carried on where Harris left off; further privatizing health care and jeopardizing the health and well-being of Ontarians, especially the most vulnerable: seniors. According to the Ontario Health Coalition 30,000 people in Ontario are on a long-term care wait list -- a three-fold increase since the Liberals came to power. The government-appointed Drummond Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services has recycled some of Harris' proposals to find "efficiencies" in health care, including further aggressive privatization of services.

It is this crisis in health care, wrought through systematic privatization and cuts that Mike Harris kick-started in Ontario, that Harris and his wife are now exploiting like a couple of vultures in their pink flowered car.

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