Ontario

Ontario gets $0.75 for every $1 million in Diamonds mined by De Beers

We found out yesterday that De Beers paid only $226 in royalties to the Ontario government for the company’s diamond mining operation in the province, thanks to an investigation by CBC’s Rita Celli.

The reason that Celli had to do an investigation to find that number is because the royalties collected from Ontario’s only diamond mine has been a closely guarded secret, by the government and the company.

But just how much did De Beers make from the Victor Mine?

The mining company annually extracts 714,000 carats of diamonds at $419 per carat, according to De Beers Operating and Financial Review for 2008, a figure that is confirmed by the Ontario Geological Survey.

As the average price of diamonds has remained mostly stable between 2006 and now, we can estimate that De Beers Canada extracts $300 million worth of diamonds every year.

In other words, De Beers is paying the province royalties at the rate of 75 cents per million dollars of diamonds extracted.

What is happening in Ontario is not unique to that province.

In British Columbia, Premier Clark’s government is selling water to Nestle at $2.25 per million litres. Nestle’s bottled water retails for around $1.50 per 500ml.

In Alberta, a royalty miscalculation by the Progressive Conservatives robbed Albertans of $13.5 billion in oil and gas revenues, according to a study by University of Alberta.

“According to Natural Resources Canada, mining companies generated over $93.3 billion in gross revenue in Ontario over the last 10 years,” the advocacy group MiningWatch Canada wrote in a letter to the Auditor General for Ontario. “During the same period, a meagre 1.5% was generated in mining royalties – 10 times less than a tip at a restaurant!”

In the case of diamonds, the government of Ontario seems to be collecting an infinitesimal fraction of one percent.

“Low mining royalties are unacceptable, particularly considering that companies are digging up collectively owned non-renewable resources, which will no longer be available for future generations,” the group pointed out.

Source: https://thinkpol.ca/2015/05/14/ontarians-get-only-75c-for-every-million-dollars-de-beers-makes-mining-diamonds-in-ontario/

Image Source: Same as source

Ontario Budget: Liberals Hide Austerity behind “Free Education”

On February 25, the Ontario Liberals unveiled their budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The centrepiece of the 346-page document was a pledge to make post-secondary education free for families earning under $50,000 a year. The working poor have cause to celebrate: Premier Kathleen Wynne’s “activist” government seems to be finally living up to its name – but is it really? Or is this budget just another example of “talking left and governing right”?

Free Education?

Under the new Ontario Student Grant (OSG), students from families earning under $50,000 a year will have their tuition made free. In addition, “middle-income” students will also have their tuition costs reduced. The logical question then follows: how is it that a government committed to erasing the deficit has found so much new money for poor students? The answer: they haven’t. The new system of funding will replace the mishmash of tax credits and grants that existed before it. The Wynne government claims the new costs will be “roughly the same” as the $1.3 billion in aid that is being replaced.

In other words, only already existing money will be committed to help with tuition costs. Fanfare aside, all the Liberals have really done is shift money around, label it “free education” and pat themselves on the back repeatedly for it.

If, however, the cost of implementing the OSG ends up exceeding the cost of the old grant/tax credit system, working families should be advised to hold their breath. While headlines may give the impression that money is being showered on post-secondary education, the opposite is in fact true. In reality, the rate of funding for post-secondary education is set to decrease.

On budget day, The Globe & Mail was quick to note that the Liberals were “keeping a tight lid on spending”. It then went on to explain how they propose to do that:

“[For the next three years] the province’s three largest spending areas – health care, education and postsecondary education – will be held to average annual increases of 1.8 per cent, 1.2 per cent and 1.1 per cent, respectively.”

With inflation anticipated to be higher than 2 per cent, the result will be a net decrease in funding for each of these three areas. Of these, postsecondary education is slated to be the worst hit. This should sow suspicion in the Liberal’s newfound love for students. It is also important to note that even if there was dramatic increase in funding to the OSG, this could only come at the expense of deeper cuts to other areas.

This, however, is not the only caveat with the OSG. From what the government has said thus far, the OSG will not be linked to tuition levels. It is important to remember that what universities and colleges charge in tuition fees is separate from what the government provides in grants. One may dramatically increase, while the other remains flat. That means the value of the OSG in 2017 would remain the same even if tuition levels were to triple in the future (which they have in Ontario since 1993).

In fact, the 3 per cent cap on tuition increases that currently exists is set to expire in 2017. As of now, it is unclear whether the Liberals are going to impose a new cap, if any, on tuition increases. On this, as with everything else, the Liberals leave more questions than answers. While a programme of free education for low-income families is undoubtedly progressive, it remains that the Liberal proposal is both vague and filled with holes.

What’s not uncertain, however, is the wave of enthusiasm around the idea of “free education”. This is something that only yesterday was said to be unrealistic or impractical by even labour and student leaders. In the past election, for example, the Ontario NDP would only commit to a tuition freeze and zero-interest student loans. Perhaps even more scandalous is that for the past decade the leaders of the left-leaning Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) have refused to publicly raise or mobilize around the demand for universal free education. This demand must now be enthusiastically taken up as a means of holding the Liberals to account, and exposing them if they backtrack.

Moreover, tuition freezes and zero-interest loans will not fundamentally solve the problems that students and young workers face. Tuition is already unaffordable and loans an incredible burden. Raising and mobilizing around the demand for universal free education would be a significant step forward for the student movement itself and would be a powerful beacon to all students facing the reality of austerity with rising tuition costs, deteriorating living and working conditions, the skyrocketing cost of housing, poor job prospects, etc. The demand for free education is directly connected to other questions such as jobs and housing and cannot be made on its own. The demand for universal free education must be taken up as an immediate step to improve the lives of students and the education system and must therefore be linked with broader demans for decent jobs, affordable housing, access to quality social services, etc.

Cap-and-Trade

Another centrepiece of this budget has been the introduction of a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions. This system sets a “cap” on emissions through the issue of permits, which are then purchased and sold by industry in the open market. Beginning in 2017, Ontario will enter a carbon-trading market made up of itself, Quebec and California to this effect. While this may fit into the “activist” narrative of the current government, the hole in their plan is so big as to make the ozone layer jealous.

As with any scheme to penalize industrial polluters, the system is only as effective as those who enforce it. How much can be expected of the Ontario Liberals, who are connected to those same polluters by a million and one strings? As their own budget makes plainly clear – almost nothing.

Just as soon as the scheme was unveiled, it was discovered that some of the largest industrial polluters (102 of them, to be exact) would be given temporary free permits to help ease their fears with cap-and-trade. But this “temporary” measure will be in place for a full four years, after which the Liberals can only promise a “review” of the practice!

Nonetheless, the Ontario Liberals have shown less compassion for working people than they have for industrial polluters. As a result of cap-and-trade, average Ontarians will be forced to pay a levy of 4.3 cents for every litre of gasoline at the pump, and up to $6 a month for heating in the average home. Unlike big industry, there will be no “reprieve” or “review” of this indirect gas tax.

Even then, this will likely do little to abate climate change – which is the intended purpose of the system. As noted by Edward Keenan, an advocate of carbon taxes, in The Toronto Star:

How many car owners are going to rearrange their lifestyles — move closer to work, or switch to public transit, or take up cycling — to avoid a 4.3-cent a litre tax? How many people are going to renovate their homes to avoid a $5-a-month increase in heating costs? I expect the answer to both questions is ‘not many’.”

Premier Wynne has repeatedly warned of the “cost of doing nothing” in regards to climate change, but no one figured that cost would be 4.3 cents extra at the pump!

More Austerity to Come

We should make no mistake in calling this budget what it is – an austerity budget. As mentioned earlier, decreases in funding are slotted for all three major spending areas – including post-secondary education. Even some of the more harmless proposals, such as making prescription drugs free for seniors earning under $19,300, harbour tax increases that target some of Ontario’s most vulnerable. The Liberal-friendly Toronto Star editorial board itself was forced to comment:

Seniors earning more than that modest level [of $19,300] will see their annual deductible almost double to $170 and their co-pay go up by a dollar per prescription […] for thousands close to the line it’s a slap in the face. Surely Ontario is wealthy enough not to demand more from old people getting by on poverty level-incomes.”

But this is hardly the end of the Wynne-era austerity. The deficit is projected to be at $4.3 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year to zero in 2017-18. Barring a surprise uptick in the economy, these billions in cuts will ultimately fall on those they have since Wynne was elected – the working class. And whether you call it an “activist budget,” or whether you call it French toast, a spade remains a spade. At the end of the day, this budget sets no departure from the agenda of school closings, layoffs and privatization. In fact, it intensifies it.

These factors have led to a steep decline in approval for Wynne’s performance, which now stands at an abysmal 29 per cent. Disapproval, on the other hand, stands at 60 per cent. As support continues to decline, the Ontario Liberals will be forced to be ever more inventive in diverting attention from their attacks on workers. “Free education” and cap-and-trade are just the latest half-hearted “progressive” initiatives to this effect. But just like someone with a gun pointed to their head, the Ontario Liberals will promise anything if it means staying alive.

But even the few reforms Wynne has eked out are based on incredibly shaky fiscal projections. As noted by Andrew Coyne in The National Post:

That revenues are nonetheless projected to soar represents one part wishful thinking, one part federal transfers — Ontario now depends on Ottawa for nearly $25 billion annually, twice what it received a decade ago — and one part dodgy accounting. In the current fiscal year, for example, the government will book $1.1 billion from its “Asset Optimization Strategy,” otherwise known as the partial sale of Hydro One: a one-time gain that does nothing for the government’s fiscal position in the longer term.”

What can also be added to this is an unexpected $504-million in revenue from HST on housing purchases, as well as historically low interest rates, which have lowered the cost of servicing Ontario’s debt load (which at $308 billion is the largest sub-sovereign debt load in the world). Finance Minister Charles Sousa himself admitted that “uncertain economic winds are currently blowing in the right direction for Ontario.” But what will happen when those winds begin to blow in the opposite direction? A collapse in the global economy, an uptick in interest rates, a reversal in transfer payments, a burst in the housing bubble – any one of these variables could easily upset the fiscal projections of the government. Simultaneously they could imply austerity on a level that has been seen across Europe.

Unlike the federal government, the Ontario Liberals have far less room to “borrow and spend” their way out of a crisis. The provincial government already spends an incredible $11.8 billion to service the debt every year. To put this into perspective, interest payments make up the third largest expenditure after education in the province. The credit rating agencies already downgraded Ontario’s rating in July of last year. They will not hesitate to do so again if the government wavers from its commitments to balance the budget. In other words, there is no room for the government to manoeuvre. They have no choice but to take the road of austerity.

What Comes Next?

While the Ontario Liberals may have refined their strategy of “talking left and governing right” with this budget, there are fixed limits to how long people can be duped. Unlike Trudeau, their post-election honeymoon has long since faded. The Wynne Liberals hope the Ontario Student Grant will prevent a Quebecois Spring from ever happening here. But rather than pacify students, it may well have the opposite effect of empowering them. Students who yesterday saw free education as a pipe dream will now feel that it is within reach. This can have an unintentionally radicalizing effect. Free post-secondary education would alleviate a massive burden for thousands of students, and the demand for universal education could be a powerful impetus in the mobilization of students for the struggle against poverty and austerity. As for the workers, the government is setting itself up for a showdown. The agenda of privatization, layoffs and wage cuts can only continue for so long before a breaking point is reached. Where and when that will happen is conditional on the tempo of the economic situation, as well as the leadership of the labour movement. But if one thing is certain, it is that the Ontario Liberals are walking an incredibly fine line.

Source: http://marxist.ca/canada/ontario/1086-ontario-budget-liberals-hide-austerity-behind-free-education.html

Image Source: http://www.cpcml.ca/OPF2014/OP0322.HTM

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty

The Austerity Agenda in Sheep’s Clothing

As we go into the New Year with Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government in place, it’s worth noting that the struggle against poverty in Toronto now unfolds with a complete set of federal, provincial and municipal regimes all seeking to position themselves politically as moderate if not progressive. This has particular implications and poses particular challenges in terms of effectively resisting austerity, poverty and social abandonment.

There is, of course, an implication in the last sentence I just used. At none of the levels of government we face can we seriously imagine that we are dealing with anything other than continuation and deepening of the agenda of austerity. That agenda is an escalating, internationally determined fact of political life that we can’t seriously expect Trudeau, Wynne or Tory to break ranks with. Still, the fact that we are not dealing with hard right regimes is of considerable significance. The positive side of dealing with the more moderate austerity forces is that they don’t wish to take things as far and they are more likely to tactically retreat in the face of serious opposition. The other side of the matter, however, is that such regimes are harder to confront. They impose austerity more stealthily and have developed considerable skills when it comes to diverting potential resistance into a process of fruitless dialogue.

Because of the newness of the Trudeau regime and, because it replaces such a hated bastion of reaction as the Harper Tories, it is likely that illusions in its false progressive credentials will linger for a while. However, we begin the New Year with global markets reacting to fears that a world economy that has produced only dubious post 2008 recovery is nearing the next downturn phase. With the collapse in oil prices and an economy being kept precariously afloat by unsustainable household debt, it is likely that Canada will feel the full weight of any such development. In this situation, it’s pretty clear that Trudeau has not been put in Ottawa to broker any major concessions. He presides over a system of federal social provision that has been seriously undermined. The Employment Insurance system has been gutted, healthcare weakened, social housing all but eliminated and transfer payments toward social assistance scaled back. A movement that demanded and fought for the reversal of this enormous damage to the social infrastructure could create a major problem for the Liberals and force more from them than token gestures.

Meanwhile, In Ontario…

For the Ontario Government, while they have hardly faced anything comparable to the Days of Action that were directed against the Harris Tories, the ‘social justice’ mantle they have put on has already lost a great deal of its credibility. The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has become well used to the Wynne Government’s ongoing game of ‘poverty reduction’ under which a never ending process of consultations is used to deflect political challenge as the Liberals deepen poverty and allow the spending power of social assistance to decline against inflation. The challenges that the Liberals have faced from public sector workers, the campaign for an increased minimum wage and the Raise the Rates campaign that OCAP has been part of demonstrate that the capacity of the Liberals to stave off social resistance to their austerity agenda in sheep’s clothing is not unlimited. Greater levels of mobilization against the Liberals’ poverty measures are perfectly possible and likely.

With the lack of openly declared party politics at the municipal level, the implementation of ‘kinder, gentler’ austerity in Toronto is a little more complex. After Rob Ford’s dysfunctional attempt at right wing populism, a sigh of relief greeted the election of John Tory as Mayor. The conservatives, centrists and soft left members of City Council have all been folded into a regime that likes to give everyone a place at the table and prides itself on an ‘inclusiveness’ that can take various forms, as long as they don’t seriously impede the twin agendas of austerity and upscale urban redevelopment.

Where Rob Ford would have insisted there was plenty of shelter space for the homeless and tried to block any measures to address the crisis on the streets, Tory plays a more skillful game. Under pressure, he opens some warming centres and drop-ins and adopts other minor measures of alleviation. He clearly places a premium on trying to reduce the risk of actual street freezing deaths, which spell political problems for him. Meanwhile, the City policy of keeping shelter occupancy at a maximum of 90 per cent continues to be disregarded and the bureaucracy works to ensure that shelter facilities are moved out from the centre of the city in the interests of redevelopment. The plight of the homeless actually becomes worse but under a regime that has the political intelligence to protect its legitimacy at the cost of some concessions.

Illusory Solutions

The advantages to be gained from the ‘poverty reduction’ circus have not been lost on John Tory and his team. The approach that the Liberals put in place at the Provincial level is now being replicated municipally. The main political capital provided by this approach is that it creates the illusion that the ‘complex problem’ of poverty is being duly considered, solutions sought and the ‘stakeholders’ consulted. Through this procedure, community anger can be safely channeled, expectations put on hold and ‘solutions’ presented that don’t conflict with and even facilitate the prevailing agenda. We will wait in vain for the City to give a lead in challenging precarious work and low wages. The library system in Toronto, has cut its workforce and employs a scandalous number of part time workers. We can be sure that there will be no great desire to ensure that the City run welfare offices adopt a less restrictive approach to the provision of benefits. Any housing initiatives that emerge will be focused on facilitating upscale development, with token ‘affordable housing’ measures included and an emphasis on furthering the privatization of public housing.

At each of the levels of government, then, the above mentioned political contradiction manifests itself. They are all regimes that are relatively less able to withstand serious challenge and social mobilization and this makes it easier to win concessions from them and force them into retreats. However, their very method of operating, based on ‘inclusiveness’ and co-option, makes it all the harder to create the critical mass of resistance that makes such victories possible. In 2016, the possibility opens up that the pace and scale of austerity will make the balancing act that such regimes rely on impossible to sustain. In such a situation, we could break the grip of the fake consensus, increase the scale of the fight against austerity and poverty and win some significant victories.

Source: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/the-austerity-agenda-in-sheeps-clothing

Image Source: (Same as above)

Liberals in Action: Privatization of Hydro One

The Ontario Liberals under Kathleen Wynne’s leadership are finishing what the Tory government of Mike Harris started: the privatization of Hydro One. While the newly elected federal Liberal government remains in a honeymoon period under a facade of progressive politics, the Liberals in Ontario are revealing their real character as the sweethearts of Bay Street through this fire sale of the crown corporation.

The first phase of the Liberals’ privatization plan began in the first week of November 2015, with the sale of 15 per cent of Hydro One to the tune of $1.83 billion. Major banks like RBC and Scotiabank managed to capture large stakes. The idea is to sell off 60 per cent of Hydro One by 2019, ostensibly to fund a $130 billion infrastructure project and help balance the budget by 2017-2018. In reality, the privatization of Hydro One will not contribute in any meaningful way towards either of these goals. It is nothing but a very lucrative handout to Bay Street.

In October 2015, Ontario’s financial accountability officer, Stephen LeClair, exposed the Liberals scheme for what it is. LeClair compared two funding options for the Liberal infrastructure/deficit reduction plan: the current privatization plan versus simply borrowing the money. He found privatization will actually cost more than the interest paid on borrowed money. LeClair demonstrated that the government would eventually lose around $500 million a year from lost revenue after a Hydro One selloff. On top of this, of the $4 billion that will supposedly be raised for infrastructure, only about half of this money will be in the form of spendable cash, the rest will be in the form of a “non-cash gain”. LeClair found that at the end of the day there may only be $1.4 billion to fund infrastructure, a splash in the ocean for the needed $130 billion. It seems that neither fund raising nor deficit reduction is on Wynne’s mind, but rather the incitement of hand rubbing on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Hydro One is notoriously known by its customers as a frustrating, bureaucratic mess. People often find that they are billed incorrectly at too expensive of a rate. But these problems will only become accentuated through privatization. Earlier this year, Ontario’s independent legislative officers came together to denounce the Liberal privatization plan, explaining that a privatized Hydro One will be very hard to regulate. In their report they noted that post privatization they will be unable to conduct performance audits, investigate public complaints and will not be able to examine planned operations, among other negative outcomes. Just this week, the Liberals announced that they would be eliminating any independence of the province’s energy regulator, the Ontario Energy Board, thus weakening oversight. Deregulation in combination with privatization can only mean higher electricity rates for Ontarians. Due to the profit seeking nature of private capital, the banks that will have major stakes in Hydro One will be looking for the highest return possible on their investment, which naturally means extortionately high rates for consumers. Even former economist for TD Bank, Douglas Peters, believes privatization will mean higher rates. He explained that investors will demand an 8 per cent return on their investment, and this return will mainly be found through higher rates. To add insult to injury, the new CEO of Hydro One is set to pull an obscene $4 million annual salary.

It is for these reasons that 194 municipalities, many trade unions and even business associations (fearing expensive hydro rates) have come together to oppose the privatization of Hydro One. As Fred Hahn, president of Cupe Ontario said “The vast majority of Ontarians agree that selling Hydro One is a bad idea. It’s time for the Wynne government to put on the brakes, hold public consultations and, really, to do what the public wants and Keep Hydro Public.” And it is in fact true that the vast majority of the public, 80 per cent according to opinion polls, oppose the Liberal plan.

Mike Harris and his Progressive Conservatives seemed to care more about public opinion in regards to the privatization of Hydro One than the Liberals do today. The privatization of Hydro One began under the misnomer “Common Sense Revolution” of Mike Harris, a revolution consisting of savage attacks on the working class and the welfare state. Harris started this process in 1998 by splitting Hydro One into multiple bureaucratic components and introducing a market in electricity, creating a lot of the inefficiencies that exist today. In 2002, Harris’ successor, Ernie Eves, moved to privatize Hydro One, but faced with mass public opposition, was forced to back down. Now it is the Liberals’ turn, with renewed resolve to disregard public opinion. Even the Progressive Conservatives now oppose privatization, along with the Ontario NDP.

In the last provincial election, the Ontario NDP capitulated to the pro-austerity agenda. Their campaign even went as far as to propose the creation of a new “Ministry of Savings and Accountability” that would cut $600 million from the budget annually. This was essentially a proposal for a Ministry of Austerity. The Ontario NDP has partially learned from the terrible failure of their right-leaning election campaign, and have launched an anti-privatization initiative in response to the Liberals. The provincial New Democrats have led the opposition to the selloff in the provincial legislature, gathered signatures for a petition and held town halls throughout Ontario to inform the public of the horrible plan and bring heat on the Liberals. Unfortunately, these actions in themselves will not be enough to stop the privatization of Hydro One.

The Liberals have not simply made a misjudgement that can be corrected. They will not be convinced through the power of a good argument. The privatization of Hydro One is part of a larger agenda of privatization, austerity and attacks on workers’ rights. Is it any wonder why the Liberals took advice on privatization from Ed Clark, former CEO of TD Bank? The Liberals’ most recent budget means the most savage austerity and attacks on workers since the Harris years, driven by the necessity to balance the budget at the behest of the financiers. Wynne is determined to maintain “zero net gain” in public sector contract negotiations, which in reality means pay cuts due to rising living costs, and cuts to social services such as healthcare, education and welfare. A particularly disgusting part of Liberal austerity was the elimination of a $100 benefit for disabled people. We can only expect more of these uncivilized attacks. The Liberals are nothing more than enemies of the working class and servants to Bay Street. Especially in this period of capitalist crisis, only a mass mobilization by the working class will be able to stop the privatization of Hydro One. Wynne fears working class opposition to her austerity, but will not concede anything without a fight.

For inspiration to fight Liberal austerity we need only look next door to the struggle in Quebec. On December 9th, there were 400,000 public sector workers on strike in Quebec against capitalist austerity measures. This is the sort of action that can halt the privatization of Hydro One and austerity generally. As the saying goes, not a light shines, not a wheel turns, without the kind permission of the working class. Workers have all the power in the world to put an end to austerity, and capitalism. The unions and the Ontario NDP must have faith in the workers to fight for their livelihoods, and give the necessary leadership to call for demonstrations and strike action. The trade unions, in collaboration with the Ontario NDP, should begin mobilization for such demonstrations and strikes against the Liberal agenda. This is the only way we can seriously fight against the privatization of Hydro One and provide a real opposition to the Liberals.

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Ontario Liberals Scheme to Privatize Hydro One

From People’s Voice

The battle against privatization in Ontario is gathering steam as the Liberal government moves to sell Hydro One – the largest supplier of publicly owned and controlled electricity in North America. The privatization was hidden in the budget presented in April with little fanfare. The government knew the move would be unpopular, as the Harris Tories had tried to do the same thing in 2002, only to be forced to back off by an irate public.

So Premier Wynne proposed to sell off 60%, and “keep” 40%, claiming this would allow for public control of the utility, while “unlocking the value” tied up in Hydro One to pay for the government’s unfunded 10 year, $130 billion infrastructure program.

Indeed this is a valuable asset: debt-free, unencumbered with Ontario’s nuclear plants, and generating a tidy profit of $1 billion a year for the provincial treasury. It also produces a reliable stream of relatively cheap and reliable electricity for residents, industry, and business. So why sell it off?

The bankers – Don Drummond and Ed Clark – recommended the sell-off, in answer to Wynne’s request for proposals to restructure public services and assets, to pay for the infrastructure plan which was the centerpiece of the Liberals’ 2014 election platform. The plan could have been paid for by increasing the corporate tax rate, which is the lowest in the industrialized world, and much lower than the Great Lake states around Ontario. But the Liberals have committed to further reduce corporate taxes, while also eliminating the provincial deficit.

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Brampton Rejects Austerity in Health Sector

From People’s Voice

At a Feb. 15 People’s Voice public forum on the topic “Health Under Attack”, Brampton, Ontario residents spoke out strongly against austerity policies in the health care sector.

Among the speakers at the forum was Doug Allan, a researcher and board member of the Ontario Health Coalition.

Allan said that globalization of finance capital since the late ‘80s has created havoc worldwide, including accelerated privatization of the public sector. Private capital has systematically targeted the health sector to created a deliberate crisis, so that hospitals and related health facilities could be handed over to corporate interests. Both Liberal and Tory governments have collaborated to create a mess in Ontario’s health sector. These changes started under the social democratic NDP government of Bob Rae, Allan noted.

Provincial and federal governments are consistently working to withdraw various medical facilities from public hospitals, and shifting to private “for profit” facilities where users pay hefty fees. To implement these anti-people policies, the ruling class has consciously defamed workers’ unions. Allan said that governments have tried to cut MRI and CT scan facilities from public hospitals, but had to restore some services when the Ontario Health Coalition and related unions resisted this move.

Unfortunately, Allan said, the trade union movement is not as strong as it used to be in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Today, the offensive by big capital has to be confronted with strong unions, which need to devise new strategies by combining their efforts with the wider community. Trade unions must find ways to relate their activities with the communities, and create broad mass support to educate working people about the danger of the ruling elite’s plan for massive privatization.

Another speaker, Shamshad Elahee Shams, explained the economic scenario of Ontario which plays a vital role in the Canadian economy. Thirty-eight percent of Canada’s 33.6 million people reside in Ontario, including 6.55 million in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone. Ontario produces 37% ($695 billion) of the total Canadian GDP of $1.893 trillion. The GTA and Ontario are witnessing rapid population growth, but Ontario is the lowest province in terms of what it gets in services per capita.

The zero percent rise in Ontario’s health budget in the last three years is a testimony of a government that doesn’t want to carry the social responsibility of the state. Over 18,500 beds were cut from its public hospitals since the 1990s. Public hospital spending per capita in Ontario was only $1372 in 2012, way less than the $2519 figure for Newfoundland and Labrador. Overall, Ontario’s health care spending stands eighth among the ten provinces, an average $3963 per person, compared to $5399 for Newfoundland and Labrador. Allan called on the people of Ontario to fight for their basic human right, since health is a state responsibility, and no mature civil society can tolerate this passive attitude of government.

Community and communist leader Harinder Hundal gave a detailed example of the recently built hospital in Brampton. The government had promised a 600 bed hospital, but ended up with only 300-plus beds, and the cost of construction far exceeded budget projections. Hundal announced that members of the Communist Party of Canada, the Indo Canadian Workers Association, the Rationalist Society of Ontario and other organizations will hold a demonstration on April 12 in Brampton to show that people here will no longer tolerate the austerity measures of ruling elite. We will teach them a lesson, as the Greeks did in recent elections, he said.

Human rights activist from Nepal, Govinda Shivakoti, said there will be no difference between a third world country and Canada if the education, health and social welfare facilities are withdrawn. Canada’s social safety net, won by the hard work and sacrifices of the working class, is an achievement that cannot be compromised, he said.

Political activist Harparminder Gadri shared his personal experience of being billed for some blood tests which were earlier covered by OHIP. Now people are made to pay for services which had been free. Even sunglasses were covered in the 1960s by OHIP, but now vision care is left at the mercy of private clinics, where people are forced to pay over $200 for their reading glasses. Finance capital, he said, is on their high horses since the demise of the USSR, creating havoc in every third world country. Gadri cited examples from India, where new economic policies of various governments at the center systematically destroyed the public school system in the interest of the private schools. They have almost dismantled government hospitals which had a high reputation in the 1970s. Since then, the health sector is left to private, for-profit hospitals.

Ontario Communists Launch Recruitment Drive

From People’s Voice

Across Ontario, clubs and activists are organizing to build the Communist Party in their cities, on campuses, in workplaces. In fact, Communists are fighting to change the world, and to build a strong revolutionary party, and a powerful labour and people’s movement.

According to the CPC’s Ontario Committee, change is in the air. There is an urgent demand for jobs, rising wages and living standards, affordable housing, strong universal and comprehensive social programs including Medicare, childcare, accessible post-secondary education, and a Canada Pension Plan that kicks in at age 60 and delivers benefits equivalent to a living wage.

People want action now on climate change. They want action on Aboriginal rights and land claims, and an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls.

They want more democracy, not less, and more say over Canada’s energy policy (penned by Big Oil), on our foreign policy (dictated by the US State Department, Big Oil and Harper), and national sovereignty (rapidly down the tube thanks to Harper, Big Oil, and free trade deals).

Unemployed workers and youth are tired of waiting for the good jobs, prosperity and opportunities promised by the Big Business parties during elections. The policies of austerity, unemployment, falling living standards and disappearing social and political rights, are universal to the Big Business parties ‑ and to those like the New Labour NDP who would like to join that exclusive club.

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Ontario Judges Declare that Housing is Not a Human Right

From People’s Voice

The first week of 2015 was bitterly cold in Toronto. The first week also saw the homeless population of the city decline ‑ not due to the housing policies of newly elected mayor, John Tory, or better affordability of rental housing. It dropped because two of Toronto’s homeless froze to death.

Mayor Tory and his Public Health department argued about when an “extreme cold weather alert” should be announced, and by whom. Tory also announced that two additional warming centres would be opened. Activists in the Ontario Coalition against Poverty (OCAP) saw this as a partial victory for their activities and pressure.

Torontonians responded by holding a candle‑light vigil by the bus shelter where the first homeless man was found frozen to death.

And the Toronto Star editorialized that the deaths “seem less a problem of flawed policy and more an error in judgement on the part of public health authorities.” (see “More flexibility is needed in issuing extreme cold weather alerts.” January 8, 2015)

But it was indeed the policies of the federal, provincial, and municipal governments that killed those two men, as well as the 158 people who died in Toronto’s shelters between between 2007 and 2013.

The vacancy rate in Toronto is 1.6%. A “healthy” vacancy rate, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), is 3%. Toronto’s official unemployment rate for adults is 8.8% while youth unemployment stands at17.6%. The national average is 7% and 13.4% respectively.

Federal governments over the last 20 years made it harder to receive unemployment insurance. There is still no national housing strategy, drawing the condemnation of United Nations. On any given night, 235,000 people in Canada are homeless. In the next three to five years federal subsidies to non‑profit co‑op housing will end. Thousands of families living in rent‑geared‑to income units will face eviction.

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3, 000 Protest Hospital Closures, Privatization, and Extra Fees

From People’s Voice

More than 3,000 people turned out Oct. 21 for a Queen’s Park rally and march past some of the biggest hospitals in Toronto, to protest the Wynne government’s drive to close hospitals across the province, privatize the clinics that operate inside them, and allow widespread and illegal extra‑billing for services covered by OHIP.

About 20 buses brought protestors from Windsor, Sudbury, Ottawa, Niagara Falls, and other communities in the middle of a cold work day, to express their anger at the Legislature. Torontonians also came to make their views known, loud and clear.

“This is not hospital cuts as usual,” stated Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “It is the systematic dismantling of public community hospitals all across this province. We are seeing the death of community hospitals and we must take a stand to stop these cuts and privatization now if we are to save our local public hospitals and preserve care in our home towns.”

Protestors in Toronto. Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).

Protestors in Toronto. Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist).

“We are experiencing the most aggressive moves to dismantle local community hospital services in decades,” said Ross Sutherland, R.N., Chairperson of the Coalition. “As care is moved out of our hospitals it is being privatized and patients face higher costs, user fees and worse access to care.”

Unsafe conditions in the private clinics springing up across the province have recently been exposed. Thirteen percent (one in seven) of private clinics failed mandatory inspections and did not meet minimum healthcare standards. Another 22 clinics (not part of the 13%) received “conditional passes”.

The clinics offer cosmetic surgery, colonoscopies, and pain injections, among other procedures.

“The percentage of clinics that did not pass inspection without conditions should be setting off alarm bells,” said medical negligence lawyer Paul Harte, in a Toronto Star interview.

One pain clinic infected three women with hepatitis C, leaving one permanently crippled and the others with long‑term consequences after spinal cord injections gone wrong. Dirty needles and an anesthetist with undetected colonies of disease on his skin were responsible.

Private clinics have been booming since the province began closing public hospitals where many public health clinics for out-patients were traditionally housed. Closing public hospitals and re‑building some as P3s, minus the clinics, has opened the floodgates for the new private clinics. This was clearly intentional by a Liberal government working hard to privatize public assets and services.

Liberals have been in government in Ontario since 2003, continuing to carry out the Harris Tories’ plans for P3 hospitals and private clinics, though they were elected to reverse the health privatization plans which were just taking hold 11 years ago.

Now, Ontario’s hospitals are funded at the lowest rate of any province. Ontario has the fewest hospital beds per person in the country, and provides the least amount of hospital nursing care. The average patient (average weighted case) in Ontario receives six hours less nursing care than the Canadian average, according to the most recent figures available from CIHI.

The government plans to close outpatient clinics, cut chronic care beds by as much as 50% in regions of the province, and cut public hospital surgeries and diagnostics to contract them out to private clinics. Already outpatient physiotherapy and labs have been systematically closed and privatized, and more outpatient services are closing every day. Patients face new user fees for privatized care, amounting to hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Community hospitals will be devastated, after already suffering more than 20 years of almost non‑stop service cuts.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. Council of Canadians.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne. Council of Canadians.

The Communist Party, in a flyer handed out at Queen’s Park, called for a halt to the closure of public hospitals, restoration of P3s into fully public hospitals, and replacement of private clinics with public clinics, located in hospitals and communities, and operated at the highest standards.

Hospitals and healthcare must be adequately funded in Ontario, so that beds and staffing are adequate to meet the needs of urban and rural areas. Further, the wages of healthcare workers must not pay for rising costs of healthcare, as suggested by the government’s budget which will freeze public sector wages across the board.

The CPC (Ontario) says the Liberals are colluding with Ottawa to roll back Medicare and open the doors to US big box healthcare providers and insurers. “But the Communist Party and the public demand an end to healthcare privatization and the expansion of Medicare to include pharmacare, dental care, vision care, long‑term care, and mental health care now.”

The Ontario Health Coalition has more than 400 member organizations, including the CPC (Ontario), and 70 local chapters. Representing more than half a million people, it is one of the most active and effective coalitions in the province, with a mandate to uphold single‑tier public Medicare under the principles of the Canada Health Act. Visit the OHC website at http://www.ontariohealthcoalition.ca or call 416‑441‑2502.