By Drew Garvie
With Ontario’s election underway, class conscious workers are eyeing the polls with increasing worry. For four years the province has been under sharp attack by the Ford Conservatives, one of the most right-wing governments in its history. Add to this the current economic situation of price hikes, combine it with an ongoing health crisis and a deepening climate crisis and the conclusion becomes clear: Ontarians cannot afford more Ford.
The Tories started campaigning before the writ and have reverted to some of the right-wing populist tactics (“buck-a-beer”) that helped them win in 2018. In late 2021, Ford tried to rebrand himself with a new slogan: “working for workers.” The government raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour at that time – a raise which was previously scheduled for 2019 but was delayed by Ford in one of his first acts as premier. The Tories also adopted new measures to supposedly help gig workers, including giving delivery workers the right to use business’ bathrooms. The catch came a few months later when the government legislated gig workers as a second class of workers, cutting them off from many rights guaranteed in employment standards legislation.
Ford’s “working for workers” veneer is very thin. At the centre of the government’s attacks on workers’ wages is Bill 124, enacted in 2019 to slash one million workers’ wages, benefits and pensions in the broader public sector and eliminate the right to free collective bargaining. With inflation and price gouging, public sector workers – the majority of whom are women – are looking at wage cuts of 3 percent or more this year. This government has also restructured healthcare, to accelerate privatization, and attacked the quality of education by increasing class sizes and e-learning.
The issue of housing promises to be front and centre in this election, as people face higher mortgage rates, skyrocketing rent and mass renovictions. Under the guise of increasing housing supply, Ford is pushing to give more powers to developers, some of the chief creators and profiteers of the housing crisis.
While Ford has done almost everything possible to squeeze more profits from working people, he is experienced at pretending to stick up for the “little guy” and currently has money to spend with higher-than-expected revenues last year. This has translated into $120 to $240 cheques for almost all drivers in Ontario as license plate renewal fees have been refunded. Ford has done away with tolls on two toll-highways and is now promising to cut provincial taxes on gas to help alleviate the increasing pain at the pumps. These superficial policies are designed to court the “905” vote which are the populous suburban cities in the GTA, who are largely forced to rely on car transportation thanks to Ontario’s horrendous inter-city transit systems. The Conservatives need to win these cities to maintain their majority.
Unfortunately, the opposition in Queen’s Park has been remarkably ineffective at presenting a clear alternative. Andrea Horwath’s NDP rode a collapsing Liberal vote become Official Opposition in 2018 but has been increasingly reluctance to fight for universal social programs and challenge corporate power. For example, it took the NDP until late 2021, after the Ford government had finally agreed to raise the minimum wage to $15, to commit to a $20 minimum … by 2026. They have also committed to a fund to subsidize wage costs from small and medium business – in other words, more transfers of public wealth to businesses.
The overall effect of coming in second has been for the NDP to adopt a play-it-safe game plan and hope to form the next government. This had a dampening effect on the fightback after Ford’s election. For the last four years the Ontario Federation of Labour has had a countdown clock to the next election “and a progressive government in Ontario.” There have been mass struggles, most notably the rotating teachers’ strikes in 2019-2020, but much of labour has been whipped into a narrow electoralist strategy to get the NDP elected. This short-sighted approach has given Ford more space to operate.
The NDP’s unwillingness to put forward policies that would curb corporate power has benefited the Liberal Party. Leader Steven Del Duca is still relatively unknown and only has seven MPPs but was, before the write, consistently polling between 2-3 percent above the NDP. Del Duca brings more of the same neoliberal policies that Ontario came to know very well in fifteen years of Liberal rule between 2003 and 2018.
The last four years have proven that it is wrong to think that we can defeat Ford by shutting up and uniting around a lesser evil. The only way to defeat the Conservatives is through mass, escalating action and unity between labour and people’s movements. It is necessary to put forward a program of fundamental change in order to be able to move people into action against Ford as well as to win real gains in people’s living standards.
The Communist Party is running candidates in several cities, for policies that put people’s needs above those of corporations and the very rich. The goal is to defeat Ford while forging unity around a People’s Alternative to win real change and build the movement for socialism beyond the election.
Immediate reforms include stable needs-based funding for public schools, zero tuition fees, and expanded universal healthcare to include dental, vision, pharmacare, mental health care and long-term care. The minimum wage should be increased to $23, social assistance rates should be raised to a livable level, and the government should enact price controls and stop price-gouging. Public transit needs to be expanded and made free of charge. We need a social housing program to confront the housing crisis, building 200,000 new units and rolling back rents so that nobody has to pay more than 20 percent of household income on housing.
A People’s Alternative also includes fighting for democracy and equality by enforcing pay equity and implementing employment equity, through action to stop the repression of Indigenous resistance, by defunding police and transferring resources to social spending, by banning hate groups and through electoral reform that incudes mixed member proportional representation.
These policies will not, on their own, resolve the fundamentally exploitative system of capitalism and the crises it creates. But fighting for them helps build a stronger movement for socialism. With so much at stake here in Ontario and around the world, we can’t settle for anything less.
Drew Garvie is Leader of the Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)
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