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January 29, 2013 - Vol. 3 No. 13

One Year Anniversary of Wynne's Selection as Premier

Liberals' Austerity Agenda Mired in Legitimacy Crisis

Thousands of working people gather in Allan Gardens prior to marching to the Liberal Leadership Convention which selected
Kathleen Wynne as Premier, January 26, 2013.

One Year Anniversary of Wynne's Selection as Premier
Liberals' Austerity Agenda Mired in Legitimacy Crisis
More Problems for PCs and Liberals

Reasons to Defeat the Liberals and PCs
Health Care Is a Right, Not a Policy Objective!
Government Perfidy Against Grassy Narrows First Nation - Philip Fernandez

Coming Events
Oppose Closure of Windsor Veterans Affairs Office!
Candidates Meeting on Health Care in Niagara Falls

One Year Anniversary of Wynne's Selection as Premier

Liberals' Austerity Agenda Mired in Legitimacy Crisis

January 26, 2014 marked one year since Kathleen Wynne was selected as premier by 1,115 delegates to the Ontario Liberal Party's leadership convention. Many of these were Liberal MPs, MPPs, failed candidates and party "insiders." They were not elected as delegates but entitled to attend the convention according to provisions in the party constitution.

Wynne's year in power as Premier has only deepened the problems facing the Liberal Party and the province as a whole as a result of the government's continued determination to attack the rights of working people in the name of making the province "competitive" or giving austerity a "fair" face. Whether it be through the imposition of new provincial bargaining arrangements in education, backing up EllisDon's union busting using Bill 74, or handing over more public funds to large monopolies such as Cisco and now likely Chrysler while others are permitted to wreck perfectly good manufacturing facilities and the jobs that go with them, the Wynne government's year in power has continued in the same direction based on the same neo-liberal assumptions as its predecessor.

Wynne replaced Dalton McGuinty after he was forced to resign as a result of corruption scandals and because he failed to rescue himself by delivering a Liberal majority with which to impose austerity on the working people. The opposition of the working people to Bill 115 and the attacks threatened against all public sector workers by then-Finance Minister Dwight Duncan so surprised the ruling circles that McGuinty and other high-level Ministers had to resign to make it appear as if the government was changing direction in order to avoid further labour unrest.

Wynne was selected by the ruling circles gathered at the Liberal Convention in the hopes of delivering the same agenda but with a more "consultative" approach. The fact that she kept in place contracts imposed on teachers and education workers by the previous McGuinty government using Bill 115 made it clear that the reset was only to address to the tone of the attacks on workers' rights, not the content.

After the Liberals failed to win the seat  in the Kitchener-Waterloo (KW) by-election and the threat loomed of more losses to come, one of Wynne's main appeals to delegates at the leadership convention was that she already held a seat whereas Sandra Pupatello, the original "front-runner," did not.

Wynne's selection revealed the extent to which private interests have taken over direct control of  the institutions of government -- since the Harris government unleashed the anti-social offensive in 1995 -- so as to guarantee there is no challenge to the public purse being used to finance their faction of the rich in competition with others to dominate the market. In particular, Charles Sousa, who was not expected to support Wynne, withdrew as a candidate for leader and put his support behind her, paving the way for Eric Hoskins to then move his support from Sandra Pupatello to Wynne, something that was also unexpected. Sousa subsequently was named Finance Minister and has huge control over the public purse on behalf of the interests he represents. As Finance Minister, his budget -- which passed with the support of the NDP -- imposed four more years of austerity on the working people of the province in order to ensure that those moneylenders who hold Ontario's debt were paid "on time." Before joining the Legislature, Sousa was employed in senior positions for more than twenty years at the Royal Bank of Canada, one of the domestic banks that holds Ontario's debt. Meanwhile Hoskins, a medical doctor, is Minister of Economic Development, responsible for administering pay-the-rich funds to certain monopolies.

Also of note is that Wynne at her selection made a big point of showing off her credentials in terms of her relations with First Nations. She highlighted her position as former Minister of Aboriginal Affairs as well as her family links with First Nations at a time when the ruling circles desperately want to get "buy-in" from First Nations for resource extraction, logging and energy projects on their lands, especially in the area of northern Ontario known as the Ring of Fire where there are rich deposits of chromite and other minerals. Since that time First Nations too have opposed her government's attempts to get them to give up their hereditary rights to their land and resources, whether those in the Ring of Fire, or elsewhere.

By continuing to reject the austerity agenda, regardless of who promotes it, the workers' opposition in concert with that of First Nations have revealed the Wynne's government's anti-social, corrupt character and its wrecking of a system which is designed to uphold the public interest. The Niagara Falls by-election is a new opportunity to challenge the austerity agenda and hold governments to account for their willful disregard for the problems of the people. A loss for both the Liberals and PCs would be a message that any party that uses its position of power to push austerity and attacks on the rights of workers and people will be opposed.

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More Problems for the PCs and Liberals

Workers from across southern Ontario send clear message to PCs at policy convention in London, September 20, 2013.

Recent developments show that the workers' opposition to the bogus austerity agenda championed by the Liberals and PCs is forcing some MPs and candidates of those parties to think twice about the direction they are taking and their chances of winning.

Last week, right as by-elections began in Niagara Falls and Thornhill, PC leader Tim Hudak was forced into the position of having to fire his candidate in the riding of Essex. The official reason given was that Dave Brister, a former Windsor city councillor, opposed Hudak's proposed right-to-be-slave-labour-laws publicly on Twitter.

The firing of Brister forced the PCs onto the defensive over their anti-worker schemes at a time they are trying to keep them on the back burner during by-elections in hopes of trying to gain momentum heading into a possible general election.

The fact that the PCs' anti-worker proposals are causing the party to go deeper into crisis is a direct result of the workers' opposition to the austerity agenda of both Liberals and PCs. This has not permitted either to gain any real ground in by-elections from which to claim Ontarians support their version of austerity and attacks on workers and their unions. This opposition includes the actions taken by working people of London and Southern Ontario right on the doorsteps of the PC Policy Convention held in London and the Liberal Provincial Council held in Hamilton.

Since Brister's firing, another two candidates in two other working class ridings -- Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Hamilton Mountain -- have resigned as candidates. Although they both stated they fully support Hudak and his right-to-be-slave-labour laws, their resignations indicate that it is not a badge of honour these days to be a PC candidate.

The working people must now be vigilant. Similar to McGuinty's resignation, from the inside of the PC party, there may be a move to replace Hudak with a more "centrist" leader. Just as with the resignation of McGuinty, the aim would be to get the working people to give up their independent organizing and let the PCs get elected to impose the austerity agenda required by the rich under majority government conditions.

For their part the Liberals too have been unable to rehabilitate their image as a party of balance, let alone the equilibrium in the parliament between a party in power with a majority and a party in opposition to replace it when the people get too fed up. Especially since the passage of Bill 115 by the Liberals and PCs and its use to impose contracts on teachers and education workers, any pretense of balance has been shattered. The resignation of Liberal MPP Kim Craitor in Niagara Falls is an expression of this. Craitor was the only Liberal MPP who said publicly he would not vote in favour of Bill 115 and subsequently did not show up for the vote. This despite the pressure that all other Liberals and PCs who were in attendance voted in favour of the bill (one other Liberal and three PCs were absent for the vote). Craitor also opposed the Liberals' proposal to close hospitals in his riding.

Last week Craitor stated he would not endorse the Liberal candidate in the Niagara Falls by-election, nor any of the other candidates, saying they were all his friends. This gives an indication that the Liberals' attacks on workers and pushing ahead with their austerity agenda is causing problems within their own ranks, resulting in more by-elections and a lack of confidence in the direction the party is taking.

These developments show that despite all the hype of a reset by the Liberals, and the impression created by some about a pending Hudak sweep, that in fact both parties are being put on the defensive by the workers' active opposition. This is all the more reason to keep it up and make sure they are both defeated in the by-elections.

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Reasons to Defeat the Liberals and PCs

Health Care Is a Right, Not a Policy Objective!

The right of all Canadians to health care, regardless of where they live, is a key question in the Niagara Falls by-election. The Liberals and PCs before them have systematically attacked this right on the basis that having proper care in small towns is not realistic and that the only option is to find "efficiencies" through the "consolidation" of services, ie. cuts, into mega-sites, built on a private-public partnership (P3) basis. Using this disinformation they pit proper local care against specialized care in central locations and the community is supposed to pick between aging local facilities in their communities, or modern state-of-the-art facilities long distances away from where they live. This false debate presents those who affirm the right to health care of all regardless of where they live as ludites who are against progress, and those who want to cut services and privatize them as forces of modernity. It has consistently been rejected by the people as it does not start from what they require in order to live healthy lives according to the standard that is possible in Canada. This anti-social view presents the right to health care as a policy objective within the confines of neo-liberal parameters that governments defend monopoly right, rather than public right. 

The riding of Niagara Falls is made up of the city of Niagara Falls and the towns of Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake. However, it is also part of the Niagara Region made up of other cities, towns and villages. The right to health care for the residents of small towns is a vital concern for everyone as it brings forward the issue of whether Canadians' right to health care is affirmed or is simply a policy objective left to the whims of government.

Hospital services essential to communities include emergency rooms, intensive care units, surgery, pediatrics and maternity, mental health and addiction services, long term care and ambulatory care, trauma centres, burn units and rehabilitation and support therapies. Health care and rehabilitation of loved ones also demands that patients have easy access to family members nearby. These services must be guaranteed as a fundamental right, not as a policy objective or justification for handing over public funds to private interests.

Of great concern for the people of Niagara is that an Ontario government-appointed supervisor of the Niagara Health System (NHS), which oversees most of the public health care facilities in the Niagara Region, made a recommendation to close all existing NHS sites outside of St. Catharines in return for the vague promise of building an additional hospital somewhere in Niagara in ten years to serve those 430,000 Niagara residents unable to make it to St. Catharines to access hospital services.

Coincidentally, the new hospital was the last 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 profit for the private developers while still not meeting the needs of the region's population.

The people of the Niagara Region have put forward their demands for the right to accessible health care on numerous occasions in opposition to these government plans to close hospitals in the name of "consolidation."

Yet governments have refused to affirm these rights and instead claim that residents should just wait and see and trust that government will do what is best for them. On March 21 last year, a petition against hospital closings in Niagara and for a publicly funded health care system for all signed by 20,000 people in Niagara Region was presented to the Ontario Legislature  Besides this successful petition, many town hall meetings and protests took place opposing the Liberal government's "reorganization" of hospitals and health care in their region. The people called on the government to reverse its decision to close the Welland Hospital and the moving of services to a new mega-hospital in St. Catharines. The response of the Minister of Health to this organized opposition at that time was to welcome "community advocacy" but not lift a finger to implement what the people were demanding.

As well, as part of their resistance, the people of Niagara Region opposed the dismantling of the elected hospital boards which provided a modicum of accountability. These boards resisted the austerity measures that the rich and their governments in Ontario were demanding and often stood up for the people. They have now been replaced by a salaried CEO, chosen -- by their determination -- to inflict death by a thousand cuts to the health care system.

The Ontario Health Coalition, a network of over 400 community organizations representing virtually all areas of Ontario, held hearings on small and rural hospitals in 12 communities across Ontario in May 2010. The results of those hearings were released to the government and to the public. The people of Niagara, including many health care workers and citizens in the riding, were present at some of these hearings and expressed their concerns about the hospital closures and the dismantling of their health care system. Many stories were told of the suffering and deaths of loved ones as a result of the "restructuring" of health care in Niagara and Ontario.

The residents are acutely aware that new government "consolidation plans," including the opening of a new mega-hospital to replace smaller community medical facilities, will not benefit them.

Health care workers have been at the forefront of the fight for the right to health care in Niagara. Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/Canadian Union of Public Employees (OCHU) president Michael Hurley recently pointed out: "Despite all of the years of denials and obfuscation, the plan for Niagara is revealed to be a dramatic downsizing with the closure of 5 hospitals' services." Saying that "this was the plan for smaller hospitals within driving distance of larger communities rolling out in the Niagara region," he added: "The worst part is that the communities are misled throughout the entire process."

"We are very concerned about the absence of transparency and openness in the processes which led to this decision. Niagara will be left with a dramatically diminished acute care capacity, embarrassingly inadequate when measured against any developed economy," he emphasized.

New Hospital Announcement

It is in this context that the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care announced, just days before Premier Wynne's January 13 call for the by-election in Niagara Falls, that a second new hospital would be built near Niagara Falls. The Ministry promised $26 million just for the "planning stage."  The St. Catharines site that opened in March and the proposed South Niagara site plus two urgent care centres are intended to replace five hospitals located in Port Colbourne, Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Welland and Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The government's decision to plan for a new hospital in South Niagara and two urgent care centres comes at a time when it faces a severe crisis of legitimacy. This stems from the fact that it has abandoned the aim of upholding public right in favour of arrangements which permit the direct takeover of the state by private monopoly interests. Its refusal to recognize the demands of the residents for accessible health care in all their communities stems from this reorientation of which interests the state serves and how. Instead of beginning from the premise that Ontarians have a right to health care then establishing the needs of all communities large and small on that basis and organizing to meet these needs, both Liberal and PC governments start from the neo-liberal premise that the health care system is an opportunity to enrich a handful of international service providers. They peddle the disinformation that health care costs are spiralling out of control because of aging populations and medically unnecessary procedures and other unsubstantiated and irrelevant nonsense. They declare that the main aim is to bring these costs under control. On this basis, the residents of the Niagara Region, and all other parts of Ontario, are presented with the unacceptable "choice" of either seeing their own local, older and smaller hospitals close so that newer "mega-hospitals" can be built in one "central" location, or settling for community hospitals not being updated or expanded because it is not "affordable." The corollary is that the latter option then makes it difficult to attract medical professionals because the facilities are not "state-of-the-art." This coincides with  the federal government's cutting of transfer payments to provinces for health care and the provincial government's program to further open up the health care system to publicly funded private delivery in various ways, including through P3 arrangements. All of it is a recipe to further dismantle the public health care system.

The announcement of money for the "planning stage" of a second near hospital "near" Niagara Falls is clearly an attempt by the Liberals to keep the people's opposition to attacks on health care from expressing itself at the polls during the by-election. Besides the attempt to hold the people hostage to the idea that if they dare defeat the Liberals they might get the PCs who will be worse, now the Liberals imply that if the people do not elect a Liberal in the by-election, they might not get "what they want" from the plans for the new hospital. This cheap attempt to undermine the people's opposition should be rejected with all the contempt it deserves.

Bogus Stand of the PCs

For their part, the PCs blame Liberal mismanagement for the cuts and say health care costs can be reduced without service cuts by finding "efficiencies"-- code for attacking workers and privatizing services. This is the same Hudak who was part of the Mike Harris "Common Sense Revolution" that gutted Ontario's health care system and privatized various parts of it under the hoax of paying down the debt to the moneylenders. So much interest has been paid on that debt, time and time again, that it has in fact been paid several times over. Not only that but after all the money borrowed to finance pay-the-rich schemes, the debt actually increased, not decreased.

The voters in Niagara Falls can defeat both the Liberals and Conservatives to send a message that Health Care Is a Right! and that government's duty is to mobilize the resources of the society to guarantee this right, regardless of where people live or their means. The fear-mongering that this is not "economical" is a red herring. When it is determined that certain things are socially necessary, the means to put them in place are found and justified. It is a matter of who decides what is socially necessary. Whose interests are to be served, those of the working people or those of the rich? All of it shows that what is socially necessary today is to rally everyone to block governments from serving private interests at the expense of the public interest. The by-election in Niagara Falls is an opportunity to defeat both the Liberals and PCs who are the champions of the austerity agenda which turns over the pubic health care system to private providers. The challenge is to make sure that in this by-election, once again, the voters' No! means No!

Health Care Is a Right!
Defeat the Liberals and Conservatives!
Defeat the Austerity Agenda!

For previous reports on the question of health care in Niagara, see Ontario Political Forum, March 14, 2013 - No. 27, "Government Put on Notice: Removal of Billions from Health Care Is Unacceptable."

(Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (CUPE), Ontario Health Coalition, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Niagara Health System, Ontario Legislature)

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Government Perfidy Against Grassy Narrows
First Nation

On December 23, 2013, the Wynne Liberal government unilaterally announced plans to commence clear-cut logging in the traditional, Treaty-protected lands of the Grassy Narrows First Nation. This is an act of perfidy against the Grassy Narrows First Nation in the Treaty 3 region of Northwestern Ontario because Wynne has no legal right to do it, especially in view of a visit she made to Grassy Narrows in the summer of 2012, as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, with the aim of re-building Ontario's relationship with Grassy Narrows to "get it right."

Grassy Narrows First Nation first set up a blockade in 2002, the longest-running blockade in Canada, on a logging road five kilometres from the community, to protest the clear-cutting practices that were threatening their traditional, constitutionally-protected activities of hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering. They have engaged in legal battles for close to fifteen years against the Ontario government's racist disregard for their Treaty, hereditary and indigenous rights. In 2011, the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the province cannot authorize timber and logging if the operations infringe on Treaty rights to hunt and fish. The Liberal government has appealed this decision and the Supreme Court will hear the case on May 15, 2014. In the meantime, however, instead of maintaining a moratorium pending the Supreme Court decision, the Wynne government, with utter disregard for the concerns of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, plans to go ahead unilaterally by issuing licences for logging as part of the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan set to start on April 1, 2014. The Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan will cut down what little mature forest remains in Grassy Narrows Territory. This is a criminal act on the part of the Wynne Liberals.

Back in November 2013, Grassy Narrows opposed these Wynne government plans when it was discovered that the Ontario government was going to go ahead with the clear-cutting, despite the written claims of Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti that "Under this Plan [Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan], there are no planned harvest blocks located within the Grassy Narrows' self-identified Traditional Land Use Area." Clearly this was a bold-faced lie.

The Ojibway people of Grassy Narrows First Nation say the Ontario government's clear-cut logging in their territory over the years has adversely affected forests in their community and contributed to the mercury poisoning that has affected them for over 50 years.

Between 1962 and 1970, Dryden Chemicals Inc., a paper mill, dumped 20,000 pounds of mercury into the Wabigoon River with the approval of the Ontario government. A recent Japanese study released in June 2012 conducted by Dr. Masazumi Harada revealed that the mercury poisoning is still adversely affecting the health of Grassy Narrows people 50 years after the contamination of their river began. Seventy-nine per cent of the people he tested in 2002 and 2004 had or may have had Minimata disease. This chronic neurological condition which can affect vision and hearing, cause muscle loss and in extreme cases, insanity and death, has affected three generations of Grassy Narrows people.

Once again, Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief Simon Fobister expressed his concerns in a December 23 news release following Wynne's announcement about the Whiskey Jack Forest Management Plan. He stated: "Premier Wynne, it is within your power to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated at the expense of another generation of Grassy Narrows children."..."I call on you to intervene to repeal this hurtful plan and to ensure that never again will Ontario attempt to force decisions on our people and our lands."

Assembly of First Nations Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy who represents the 133 First Nations in Ontario has called for the immediate blocking of logging operations if the Wynne government plan for logging within the Grassy Narrows First Nation proceeds. Regional Chief Beardy pointed out as well, "The blockade was put on hold because we were under the impression that with the lawsuit pending, all [logging] activities had been put on hold, but unfortunately it looks like that's not happening," adding, "So if the logging starts up again, so will the blockage. Unfortunately, it seems to be the only way they'll pay attention to us. We tried the political process, we tried having a conversation with them."

(grassynarrows.ca, Indian Country Today Medianetwork, Wataway News)

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Coming Events

Oppose Closure of Windsor Veterans Affairs Office!

On Friday January 31, at 11 am at 441 University Ave. West veterans and their supporters from Windsor and surrounding areas will hold a rally outside the Veteran's Affairs office that is set to close that day as part of the Harper government's anti-social offensive and its attack on public services people rely on.

According to the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Windsor office is responsible for the services to more than 2,600 people and had a staff of 10 in 2012. Those people will now be served by the London office and added to its client base of more than 6,100. Meanwhile staffing in London that was 21 in 2012 will be reduced to 19 after the Windsor closure. This is deplorable and veterans are refusing to accept this state of affairs. Such attacks on the elderly and most vulnerable show the inhuman and anti-social nature of the Harper government.

For more information on the demand of Veterans to oppose the closures of Veterans Affairs offices, see TML Weekly, November 16, 2013 - No. 45.

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Candidates Meeting on Health Care in Niagara Falls

On Tuesday, February 11, from 7-9 pm in the Memorial Room of the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls there will be a candidates meeting on the question of health care. The candidates for the Liberals, NDP and PCs in the February 13 by-election have been invited. The event is organized by the Niagara Health Coalition and sponsored by SEIU, OPSEU Local 215 and the Ontario Nurses' Assocation Local 26. Everyone is invited to attend. The Gale Centre is located at 4171 Fourth Ave. For more information contact the NHC at 905-359-7007 or e-mail niagarahealthcoalition@yahoo.ca

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