News from the Park – November 16

Recently I was sitting in a reception area for a meeting that was to begin in a few minutes. I was wearing one of my favourite light sweaters. As I sipped my coffee, I noticed a little thread of yarn hanging just under my elbow. I was about to pull it when in my mind I heard a sharp, “Michael!” and I stopped. I heard my mom admonishing me not to pull that thread. I smiled as I thought Mom would be pleased that I had learned my lesson about pulling hanging threads of wool, back when I was a kid, despite ruining a sweater my mémère Alice knitted.

We all know the inevitable result of tugging gently on a little piece of yarn hanging off a sweater. What starts out as a slight error in judgment ends up as a massive pile of knotted ugly yarn lying on the floor for all to see. Continuing to follow that same error ends up making things worse and worse. Continuing to pull only ensures the ruin of the sweater beyond repair.

The above lesson lends itself nicely to the predicament Premier Ford finds his Government has created in Ontario’s healthcare and public education systems. Both systems are unravelling into a knotted, ugly mess. The difference is that it is not just an ugly mess to witness but rather a terrible ordeal that Ontarians have to suffer through. Our education system is in turmoil. Because of Doug Ford, our healthcare system has become a knotted mess.  People are becoming entangled in Doug Ford’s failures. Unfortunately, many are suffering or, in some cases, even dying as a result. But at the end of the day, the Premier is responsible.

For Ontarians, that first tug on the yarn was made in 2019 with the passage of Bill 124, the Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act. In one fell swoop, Premier Doug Ford’s Government overrode the bargaining process to limit provincially funded public corporations and agencies to no more than a 1 percent increase in wages. Since that date, the situation has been unravelling, leaving a mess that Ontarians are suffering from more and more as time passes. Bill 124 impacted more than a million workers in Ontario, including nurses, healthcare workers, teachers and supporting jobs in the education sector. Now the Premier has a bigger mess to clean up.

Premier Ford cannot possibly plead that he was unaware of the potential harm bill 124 could do. The Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), teacher unions, public sector unions, many financial consultants and the NDP all pointed to other governments that legislated such wage caps, demonstrating the negative impacts of such moves on labour competition. By way of an example of such warning, an article on November 15, 2021, reported Puneet Tiwari, a lawyer at Levitt Sheikh LLP in Toronto, described the legislation as “an unusual” move — especially for the healthcare sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” He said that the decision to limit wages would feed right into the hands of recruitment efforts by private-sector companies. As a result, Bill 124 would impact competitiveness — something that will have far-reaching broad effects in multiple government-funded sectors in days and months to come. Clearly, Tiwari was right.

But just for now, let’s set aside what Ontarians are witnessing as the Ford government tries to bring the CUPE education workers to their knees. Instead, focus on what has been happening in our healthcare sector with years of cuts and underspending.

Just recently, Catherine Fife, NDP Finance Critic, slammed the Ford government for sitting on $44 billion in contingencies as the health care and other crises worsen in Ontario. The $44 billion figure that MPP Fife announced came from the Financial Accountability Office’s 2022 Fall Economic and Budget Outlook. In it, the FAO is forecasting a $40 billion shortfall across all programs over the next six years, including:

  • $23 billion shortfall in health
  • $6 billion in education
  • $4 billion in children, community, and social services
  • $2.6 billion in postsecondary funding
  • $2.3 billion in justice

It is just outright unconscionable for Premier Ford to make cuts in health, education, and social services at this time. Our hospitals are already at a breaking point. Frontline healthcare workers who helped us through the COVID crisis are feeling burnt out, underpaid, and disrespected by the Ford government. Education workers are accessing food banks. And as I pointed out in a recent column, ODSP and OW recipients live in legislated poverty. Yet, instead of backing off of Bill 124, Doug Ford is fighting public sector workers in court — a choice by Ford that could cost the public $8.4 billion.

Now is not the time to be sitting on piles of cash, waiting for a rainy day. Judging by the calls and letters my office receives week after week from people experiencing genuine hardship, such as just trying to feed their kids and heat their homes, it is clear that these are ‘rainy days’ for Ontarians. The Government can and must allocate these massive historic contingencies dollars to prevent shortfalls in the services that Ontarians count on.

New Democrats believe that just covering the projected shortfalls on its own isn’t enough. The NDP is also calling on the Government to actually invest even more in health care, education, and social services instead of racking up $25.2 billion in surpluses over the next six years.

The Government has willfully and knowingly pulled on a loose strand of yarn, resulting in a monstrous entanglement that is hurting all Ontarians. It must minimize the healthcare staffing crisis by repealing its wage-capping Bill 124. The Government can begin fixing the damage by negotiating a fair deal with Ontario’s lowest-paid education workers instead of causing avoidable disruption and staffing crises in our schools.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters.

Mike Mantha