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Dear Canadians: There is only one progressive choice this election

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Dear friends:

I won't be voting Liberal on October 19.

With Election Day coming fast, the two-thirds of Canadians who don't want Stephen Harper as Prime Minister are mulling their options. For many of these voters, the ballot-box question is this: Who is the "progressive" choice? Justin Trudeau's Liberals, or Tom Mulcair's New Democrats?

Trudeau promises immediate debt-financed infrastructure investments to boost the economy. Mulcair's longer-term approach calls for a national child-care program (which Liberals promised 20 years ago) and a national drug plan (which all provinces say is long overdue).

Trudeau will hike income taxes on the top one per cent to cut taxes on middle-income earners. Mulcair will raise corporate income taxes to fund programs for people.

On the face of it, it's not obvious which way is more progressive.

We need cities that work and shorter commutes. That's what new infrastructure gives us. And there's nothing wrong with deficit financing to build it -- provided we tax the resulting economic growth so we can pay our debts over the long term.

As for new public services, we need them, too. Quality child care helps our kids and helps our economy: it allows more people, especially low-income women, to join the workforce. Pharmacare will mean no one has to choose between filling a prescription and buying groceries. And in the long run, it won't cost money, it will save it -- especially for employers who see their benefit costs fall.

Two visions, only one ballot. How to decide?

Progressive Canadians are making a mistake if they don't learn the lessons of the last Ontario election.

Just 15 months ago, the Liberals here promised a massive investment in new infrastructure, especially transit. At a time when the province had already run many years of deficits, this was a daring move. But Premier Kathleen Wynne's vague promise of "new revenue tools" was good enough for 38 per cent of voters, and she won a majority.

The result was far from progressive. The new government stepped up public service cuts. It extended its program of real wage cuts for public employees. It announced -- out of the blue -- that it would privatize Hydro One, the province's electricity transmission utility.

In the most recent poll, Environics found 83 per cent of Ontarians oppose the sale. Yet urged on by Bay Street, Wynne is charging ahead, public be damned.

Is this privatization "progressive"? No. The fact is, the Hydro One sale will be one of the largest transfers of wealth from the public to private investors in Canadian history.

For the last quarter-century, corporate Canada has demanded tax cuts, and Conservative and Liberal governments alike have been happy to oblige. But these days, banks and other corporations are shifting focus. They see the public sector as an important profit centre. And the big money is in public infrastructure.

Ontario is a leader in public-private partnerships (P3s) to build infrastructure projects. But last December, our Auditor General said Ontarians had paid $8 billion too much for 74 projects where the private sector was brought in to manage and finance them. Basically, the companies gave themselves a 28 per cent markup compared to traditional public-sector procurement methods.

What does this have to do with Justin Trudeau? Everything. In a speech last winter, Trudeau invited corporations to get into public infrastructure in a big way. "Justin Trudeau has made it abundantly clear that he is a big proponent of the public-private partnership model," the Canadian Business Journal gushed.

Voters who ignore how P3s spend public dollars are misunderstanding who's really progressive -- and who's not -- in this election.

It is no secret that the federal and Ontario Liberals share close ties. What Justin Trudeau is selling this year is what Kathleen Wynne was selling last year.

Here in Ontario, people are seeing the connection. In the Environics poll, 48 per cent said they are "less likely to vote Liberal" because of the Hydro One sale.

On October 19, progressive Canadians don't have to vote for regressive privatizations. They don't have to vote Liberal.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union

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This letter was originally published on opseu.org.

Image: Flickr/OFL Communications

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