How do you feel about seeing your neighbour lose her job? Would you vote to have 100,000 of your neighbours lose their jobs? That is what Tim Hudak and his Conservatives are asking Ontario voters to do in the provincial election June 12.
Hudak pledges to eliminate 100,000 public service jobs if he forms the next government. Vote for his party (or stay home) and that is what you provoke.
Right off, that number looks stupid: not even 100,000 people work directly for the Ontario government.
Ontario delivers education, health and municipal services. So what Hudak wants Ontarians to do is vote for less health care, education, amateur sports, cultural activities, parks and recreational services for citizens within the province.
Most public sector workers deliver these valued services to citizens; they do not work at desks. Kayle Hatt has crunched the numbers: outside of the nearly 100,000 core government employees, 550,000 Ontarians provide provincial services in counties, neighbourhoods, towns and villages.
The Hudak "jobs plan" would eliminate 15 per cent of public services jobs, leaving fellow employees with less support to do their jobs.
If elected, Hudak would inject grief and job insecurity into the workplace, and into communities everywhere in Ontario. How many family members are affected when 100,000 people are being terminated? Anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 with spouses, children included. Add parents, brothers and sisters, and the numbers double at least.
Most of what we value comes from our relationships with others. The neighbours who work for the government take on specific responsibilities for the well-being of Ontario residents that most citizens will not be able to replace when the publicly available services disappear.
The Hudak plan to terminate public employees comes as part of an overall promise to create one million jobs in Ontario. Since in all of Canada at best only one million jobs were created from 2009 to 2014, the promise is, let us say, "ambitious." But the idea that in order to create one million new jobs, the government should kill 100,000 existing jobs is beyond bizarre.
The costs of foregoing public services are well known. Deaths result when basic services are not provided safely. After a previous Ontario Conservative government reduced basic inspection services, E. coli contaminated water in Walkerton, Ontario resulted in 2,300 people getting sick, seven deaths, and a judicial enquiry that identified government cutbacks as a deadly community health problem.
Putting more students in each classroom cheats every one of them of the individual attention teachers want to provide. Cutting hospital places makes more people wait longer for basic health care, resulting in increases in preventable deaths.
Children playing a sport or learning to sing are having the time of their lives. Why diminish this experience by cutting back on education?
The benefits of public services cannot be measured accurately but they far outweigh the costs in taxation or borrowed money. In a landmark 2009 study, Hugh Mackenzie and Richard Shillington estimated that the median Canadian family with income of $41,000 enjoyed benefits from public services equal to about 63 per cent of their income, far more than was paid out in taxes.
What the next Ontario government should be doing is creating 100,000 new public service jobs. The unemployment problem is serious with the real unemployment rate at 14 per cent double the official rate of seven per cent. In Ontario, Angella MacEwan estimated that in 2013 there were 18 people available for full-time work for every job vacancy. Youth unemployment is especially severe, and new public service employment could be targeted at recent graduates.
Serious program needs exist in Ontario for additional child-care services, co-op and social housing builders, remedial education, neighbourhood recreation and parks supervisors, and community outreach workers.
Each three new public service job boosts overall economic activity, and creates the equivalent of two private sector jobs.
What governments work to provide through public services cannot be purchased at any price. Clean air, safe water, good health, and the riches of educated minds are not available online, or down the street. Could somebody let Hudak know?
Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
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