Hundreds of public sector union members rallied outside the Ontario government buildings on Thursday to protest the provincial budget.
"This is about the kind of Ontario that we want," said OPSEU Executive Board Member Ibrahim Bozai, "We are anticipating serious cuts. We’re anticipating the government digging in their heels when it comes to investments in public services, and more privatization."
If the Government is to meet its goal of a balanced budget by 2017, they will have to make a $2 billion dollar dent in the provincial deficit this year. This will mean major belt-tightening. Overall, program spending will increase by just 1.4 per cent. Factoring in inflation, this will amount to a spending freeze or reduction in most sectors.
Thursday’s budget confirmed the government’s intention to sell its majority stake in Hydro One, and included several other public asset sales, such as the LCBO headquarters. The Liberals have also eliminated a $100 a month Ontario Disability and Support Payment (ODSP) top-up, intended to help working people with disabilities pay for travel and other work-related expenses. At the same time, the budget includes an addition $200 million to business, according to the Globe and Mail.
Bozai said that as public sector employees, OPSEU members are "the people most directly affected by the provincial budget," which is why they feel it is their duty to come out and challenge this austerity budget.
Spending increases of less than 2 per cent in healthcare and education will make for lean and mean contract negotiations in those sectors. The Ontario Nurses Association estimates that nursing hours have already been cut 60,000 hours per year.
"Premier Wynne’s budget sells more than just Ontario’s public assets, it sells false choices," said OFL President Sid Ryan in a press release. "She is telling Ontarians to choose between public transit and public hydro; municipal infrastructure versus hospital closures; good jobs or a balanced budget. It is a sort of budgetary ‘Hunger Games’ that pits public priorities against vital public services instead of addressing the most obvious choice: asking corporations and high-income earners to pay their fair share."
Public sector workers are anticipating major cuts to their collective agreements as negotiations continue between the provincial government and several public sector unions, including OPSEU and Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. Strikes already underway with secondary teachers in Durham region and Niagara’s Community Care Access Centre.
“Doctors, teachers, TA’s. Once again, the fabric of society is being loosened. It’s very Thatcher-esque,” said Bozai. "They are saying: 'there’s no such thing as society; take care of yourselves, take your tax cuts, take your vouchers and go, there’s no need for public services and there’s no need to stick together,' that’s really their message and its a savage one."
Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern and an associate editor at GUTS Canadian Feminist Magazine. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People.
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