What Really Happened with the Ontario Budget!
By Liz Rowley
Media watchers have been treated to high drama as Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Andrea Horwath duelled over the 2012 Ontario budget. At the last minute a snap election call was averted with new concessions by the NDP.
The labour and democratic movements took a deep breath. A mid‑summer election likely to result in another minority (but what kind?) was not relished, and in any event the NDP was declaring victory.
In fact, this budget contains some of the most dangerous privatization legislation ever seen in Ontario. It also guts the Endangered Species Act, which is in the way of the some of the biggest and most profitable mining and forestry companies. On top of this, the budget makes deep cuts to social spending, including healthcare and education. Massive layoffs are coming, along with a promise of wage control legislation if public sector unions do not agree to a wage freeze and other concessions this fall.
For all these reasons, Budget Bill 55 was insupportable, no matter which way you look at it.
Inside the budget bill, Schedule 28 contains the power tools for the Liberal Cabinet to engineer the largest privatization of public services and assets in Ontario’s history, without putting it to the Legislature or making it public. Schedule 28 gives Cabinet the authority to create a new “Minister of Privatization” whose powers would supercede all other laws and regulations that stand in the way of privatization. Under Section 10, they have the power to privatize all assets and services delivered by municipalities, school boards, post‑secondary institutions and hospitals.
Yet the NDP it wasn’t until CUPE Ontario rang the alarm, supported by the Ontario Health Care Coalition and the Council of Canadians, that the NDP even mentioned Schedule 28.
In April, the Premier and Ms. Horwath shook hands on a deal to increase payments for those on the Ontario Disability Support Program by 1%, provide some funding for childcare, and levy a new wealth tax on those with incomes over $500,000. However, the revenues generated from the new tax would only be used to pay down the deficit, and the wealth tax was to be eliminated along with the deficit in five years.
Pressure from the labour and social movements pushed the NDP to open up a fight on Schedule 28. They used legislative committee hearings on the budget to support Liberal amendments which started to limit the scope of Schedule 28. The Tories supported many of the same amendments, causing the Premier to scream bloody murder. The Tories voted with the NDP on many amendments because they said the bill did not go far enough to cut, gut, privatize, and deregulate.
But when the legislative committee came to vote, the Tories supported the government and Schedule 28 passed with only the NDP dissenting.
The Liberals and Tories also defeated amendments to force the government to take any proposed privatization through the legislature and the Ontario Auditor General, and to subject the deal to the Ombudsman’s oversight. So the Cabinet can still proceed with privatization “by stealth.”
On the budget as a whole, the NDP abstained, leaving the Liberals to comfortably outvote the Tories.
Out of this, the NDP has declared itself the winner. The public is still unsure what has been won and lost, but the NDP claims the Trojan Horse of massive and secret privatization has been defeated.
Natalie Mehra of the Ontario Health Coalition is calling on all those opposed to privatization to get ready to fight the government’s plans as they appear at a hospital, school, municipality, or post-secondary institution near you very soon.
Last April, Horwath was booed at a demonstration of 15,000 of the “We are Ontario” coalition, at the heart of which is the Ontario Federation of Labour. Protesters were clearly of the view that the concessions won by the NDP were too few and too small, and that much more could be wrung from the Liberals with mass action by labour and its social and community allies.
Horwath also lost public support for making further concessions when McGuinty threatened an election.
The Communist Party has consistently opposed this austerity budget, and pushed for the NDP to work with the We Are Ontario Coalition to demand significant concessions such as job creation, new social housing construction and rent controls, increased corporate and wealth taxes, tax relief for homeowners and tenants, a universal public childcare system in Ontario, and more.
We agree that the fight has just rekindled. It will require all hands on deck in the extra-parliamentary struggle, especially because of the weak fight inside the Legislature. Increasingly, the NDP are acting like Liberals, the Liberals like Tories, and the Tories like the barbarians they are.
In fact, the labour and people’s movements will have to push both the NDP and the Liberals to focus on job creation, and to tax the wealthy and the corporations for the revenues desperately needed to fund services and job creation.
Things are sharpening up in Ontari‑ari‑ario.