Monday, November 05, 2007

Electoral Parties Have Little to Offer to Working People

Election campaigns lack substance, track records in office unimpressive for all mainstream parties.

On October 10th, about half of eligible voters will go to elect a new provincial government and possibly a new way of electing people. While it is still unclear what the likely outcome will be, there are some conclusions that we can draw already: 1) almost half of the people in the province do not have enough conidence on the political system to take time out to go vote and 2) given that recent history shows little difference between the Conservatives (who governed in the late 1990’s), the Liberals (the current government) and the NDP (who governed in the early 1990’s) this a reasonable choice to make.

Nonetheless, BASICS wants to encourage working people to grill anyone who comes to their door with questions about what their party will do for our communities, why they didn’t do these before when they were in government, and why should we trust them now?

Afordable Housing:
The Harris government made their contempt for poor people very clear with deep cuts to desperately needed social programs. Social housing funded and run by the provincial government was then passed down to the City’s and without any funds to run them. This is how Toronto Community Housing was formed. The result – a severe decline in the maintenance and upkeep of units and a reduction of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units available, relative to those who need it.

Once again, the Liberals ran on a platform of reversing all of this. However, they have not taken responsibility for funding social housing and hence, in Toronto alone there are some $500 million needed in order to bring units up to decent standards.

Wages and Jobs:
This spring the issue of wages momentarily gathered some attention as some unions initiated a campaign to have the minimum wage raised to $10/ per hour from $8/ per hour. The Liberals and Conservatives both oppose increasing the minimum wage right now, largely because they are ‘concerned about the impact on business’ – which means they are speaking on behalf of the sector which funds their campaigns and lines their pockets. The NDP for their part moved a Bill that would have seen the minimum wage increase to $10 / hour, a very good step but far from something that would give a living wage to the more than 1 million workers in Ontario earning a minimum wage.

Class sizes and resources for schools have been a major issue since in Ontario schools the days of the NDP Rae government. These problems were exacerbated by the Mike Harris Conservative government who instituted massive cuts leading to strikes, large class sizes and a tangible reduction in the quality of education provided to children of working class families. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals promised to reversed these cuts but have left schools without the money they need. McGuinty and crew have also increased tuition fees for University and College education, just as Harris and Rae did.

Social Assistance:
During Mike Harris’s time as Premier, social assistance was slashed by 22%, using the rationale that poor people are lazy and need to be forced to work. Under his leadership the Conservatives also introduced a workfare program called Ontario Works, entrapping those who require social assistance into working in menial jobs that provide little to no skills or training. Parents in the workfare program are forced out of their homes and are left no afordable options to access child care for their children.

Despite their promises during the last provincial election, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have done little to improve upon the wreckage to social assistance programs left behind by the Conservatives. McGuinty said he would make sure that welfare rates would rise at the same rate as inlation, but this promise was broken. Social assistance has only been increased by 2%. This still leaves families in need of support with 20% less funding than 12 years ago. Add
to this the Liberal’s elimination of the Special Diet program, the addition of the Ontario Health Premium, and the stagnation of minimum wage rates, and the poor have seen a massive 40%
loss in real income under the last two provincial governments.

The NDP’s platform for this election remains silent on the issue of social assistance, focusing once again on pleasing richer members of the working class and showing a lack of willingness to take the concerns of the majority of working people seriously.