Matters of Concern to the Polity

Growing Opposition in Ontario as Ford
Government Intensifies Anti-Social Offensive 

Defend and Invest in Public Health Care!

On March 15, the Ford government in Ontario announced massive changes to Ontario's education system. These include increasing high school class size averages from 22 to 28 students, making changes to the sex-education curriculum and Indigenous studies content, imposing a "back to basics" approach to the math curriculum, instructing schools boards to implement a hiring freeze, and enabling principals and vice-principals to hire teachers on "fit" and "merit" criteria. The government claims that the current system of hiring places too much emphasis on "seniority, rather than specific skills or previous performance, as the most important criteria in hiring.”

The proposed changes will cut an estimated $1.4 billion from the public education system. Education Minister Lisa Thompson had the gall to divert attention from the issue of the conditions the government is imposing on the teachers and students by declaring that in this plan not one teacher will lose their job.

Since coming to power in June 2018, the Conservative government has stepped up the all-sided anti-social offensive against the people of Ontario under the same fraudulent pretexts as those used by Mike Harris in 1995 -- opening Ontario for business, cutting red tape and reducing the deficit. Now as then, these are pretexts for changing the state structures in order to politicize private interests. The result is to create the legal framework and arrangements which enable narrow private interests in the highly lucrative education, construction, and transportation sectors, amongst others, to put the state at their disposal.

While claims are made that the measures taken are to reduce deficits and pay down debts, the debt balloons as a result of neo-liberal governments' pay-the-rich schemes. Under the Ford government, investments in education, health care and other social programs affecting the most vulnerable, such as funding for autism programs have been cut back. Minimum wages and other workers' rights have been rolled back. The right to unionize and to union representation has been eliminated for a host of yet-to-be specified government construction projects while arrangements which permitted union representation in the nurses and teachers colleges have been eliminated. The cost of post-secondary education is being further transferred onto the backs of students. Less funding available in the form of grants means more student debt, even retroactively for some. New legislation will also further privatize health care -- all this in the name of "cutting red tape," "keeping Ontario open for business," "reducing the deficit" and "balancing the budget."

This pay-the-rich direction set for the economy of Ontario is not sustainable and is being resolutely opposed by Ontarians.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) President Harvey Bischof called the government's new announcement a "sledgehammer blow" to the education system in Ontario. He said it could result in the potential loss of more than 5,500 high school teaching jobs in Ontario, including those of over 3,600 OSSTF members. Bischof pointed out that the government's change to class size will create an "impasse" at the next round of negotiations. Bischof said it will foster conflict. The resistance from teachers to this dictate would be "massive," he said.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association projected that the announced changes will result in job losses for some 5,000 Catholic teachers.

Health care workers in Ontario, their unions and the Ontario Health Coalition are organizing to protest the Ford government's People's Health Care Act, Bill 74, which was introduced in February 2019. This omnibus health legislation will dismantle the 14 Local Health Integration Networks, which oversee home care and manage nursing home care at the local level. It will merge six health agencies -- including Cancer Care Ontario and eHealth Ontario -- into one central "super agency" called Ontario Health. Under this new centralized super agency, some 50 regional Ontario Health Teams will be made responsible for the health care of as many as 300,000 patients each to "connect health care providers and services around patients and families." The goal, according to a Ministry of Health press release, is "to better facilitate patient transitions between various local health care providers -- such as hospitals and home care providers -- and streamline health records and care plans."

These changes do nothing to address the actual problems of Ontario's health care system and so-called corridor medicine, which can't be fixed without addressing the shortage of staff and available beds. They do however concentrate authority in fewer hands with arbitrary powers which enable global monopolies engaged in for-profit health care industries to capture more of the provincial health care budget, while criminalizing workers' resistance and depriving them of any decision-making.

On March 7, unions defending health care workers held a press conference at the Ontario legislature demanding that the Ford government hold public hearings on Bill 74 before proceeding any further. Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE, representing more than 35,000 hospital and long-term care nurses and support staff asked: "How can the government claim it is creating health care 'teams' when the organizations representing hundreds of thousands of members of that "team" have never been consulted? Equally importantly, the public has never been consulted. Communities stand to lose virtually all remaining local control of their health care services, yet the government is pushing their new law through the legislature with reckless speed."

The Ontario Health Coalition has launched a series of Town Halls across the province to involve the people in discussion on how to hold the Ford government to account for these massive assaults on public health care in Ontario. A province-wide rally is being planned for April 30 at Queen's Park to oppose the Ford government's anti-social measures.

Protest against cuts to autism program, March 13, 2019, outside Premier Ford's press conference in Cambridge.

One of the most active groups in action against the Ford government's anti-social offensive are the parents and guardians, therapists and support organizations for the 23,000 children waiting for autism therapy. They and the umbrella group Autism Ontario have held protest actions across Ontario including a massive rally at Queen's Park on March 7 to demand that children with autism receive the proper funding supports to live their lives. The Ford government has limited the level of funding received by families of children with autism to a lifetime maximum of $140,000 per child between two and 18 years of age, while it can cost up to $80,000 annually per child for the therapy they need. Even under the current regime only some 25 per cent of children are adequately funded. The new measures mean that all autistic children will be deprived of their ability to realize their potential. It is a criminal move.

Queen's Park demonstration, March 7, 2019, protesting Ford government's cuts to funding
of autism programs.

The Ford government is also pushing ahead with its appeal of the Ontario Superior Court ruling in December 2018 which said that annuity payments from the Robinson-Huron and Robinson-Superior Treaties signed in 1850 must be increased. Annuities paid to the 30,000 members of Anishinaabe communities in Ontario under the Robinson-Huron Treaty have not increased above the $4 per person set in 1874.

The Ford government, along with the federal government, is also facing stiff opposition over its refusal to uphold the rule of law with respect to General Motors breaking its contractual agreements with Unifor and shutting down production at its plant in Oshawa.

This escalating anti-social offensive by the Ford government jeopardizes the future of public health care and public transit, and the right to public education and public services that serve the most vulnerable. The militant protests by students and teachers at the convening of the Legislature, the actions by health care workers and families of children with autism, as well as other collectives of the people is evidence that the people's striving for empowerment must address the structures of the state which permit such impunity. The cartel party system protects the private interests which have usurped power. This problem needs to be addressed in the course of the militant resistance to the anti-social measures.

(With files from Government of Ontario, Ontario Federation of Labour, Ontario Health Coalition, CBC, TML archives. Photos: Protest Autism Cuts, A. Jagessar, A. Noonan)

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 9 - March 16, 2019

Article Link:
Matters of Concern to the Polity: Growing Opposition in Ontario as Ford Government Intensifies Anti-Social Offensive 


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