Tag Archives: Ontario

Ontario NDP given chance to pull the Liberals left

2 Aug
Peggy Sattler with Andrea Horwath during the August Ontario byelection

Peggy Sattler, middle, won in London during the August 1 Ontario byelection

Voters delivered a clear message: out with the Liberals, down with the PCs.

The NDP won two of the five liberal ridings up for grabs in this byelection. The new MPPs are successful politicians in their own rights: Percy Hatfield was a city councilor in Windsor and Peggy Sattler was a school trustee. Both were running in ridings where the former representatives, Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley, wore most of the controversy of the $500 million waste in the gas plant scandal. 

The Liberals barely held onto Dalton McGuinty’s former riding and Mitzie Hunter took over for Margarett Best, a cabinet minister whose profile was never very high.

The PCs only won Etobicoke-Lakeshore in a race that had more to do with Toronto politics than Ontario politics, where two sitting councilors raced against each other. Former Etobicoke mayor and Rob Ford insider Doug Holyday is their new MPP.

Before any party claims victory, a sober analysis of the political scene is critical: were people voting for, or against something?

There’s no question: the PCs and the Liberals, if not tied to be this byelection’s loser, were neck in neck for that laurel. The PCs might just take it as byelections tend to be the opportunity to show the ruling party a lesson. In the next general election, these votes might swing right back to the Liberals. Many have wondered publicly what this will mean for Tim Hudak’s future. I agree that his days as leader are numbered.

This bring me back to my first point: the Ontario NDP might regret these results.

That’s my pessimistic way of saying this: the NDP has won its greatest opportunity since they held government to influence government. Are they up to the challenge?

Assuming that government holds long enough to even consider a budget, the pressure on the NDP to deliver a budget with the Liberals that reflects some progressive values will be their greatest test in nearly 20 years. The Liberals will need NDP support. The New Democrats cannot rely on weak, populist policies if they’re going to prove that they’re a viable alternative. They’ll have to demonstrate that they can play politics: make serious demands or force a general election.

Will party insiders see this reality? Or will they actually believe that folks in London and Windsor voted NDP because they think Andrea Horwath should be premier?

The victories for the NDP in this campaign are not insignificant. Sattler and Hatfield will be important additions to Queen’s Park.

But the losses for the NDP are more significant than this byelection’s gains. The absurd powerplay of Adam Giambrone to become the candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood called into question both the party’s internal democracy and moral decency. It was a bigger error than Sattler’s win was a victory. Miscalculating Giambrone’s transit strategy and siding with a Rob Ford-esque subway promise was a bigger error than Hatfield’s win was a victory.

They’re bigger errors because they seem to have been orchestrated by the party’s central command. Where Sattler and Hatfield won mostly on their reputations followed by the banner of the NDP, Giambrone seemed to be steered by the back room of the party. Or, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside.

When budget negotiations come around, who will be the strategists? The folks who organized Giambrone’s campaign or Sattler’s campaign?

If the NDP picks their big issues now (public childcare? lower tuition fees? new energy policies?), pulling a Liberal budget to the left won’t be politically difficult.

Staying on their current track: figuring out the easiest policies to implement and allowing populism to drive them, will result in the a PC victory during the next election, if that party jettisons Hudak.

There are many, many months for the NDP to clean itself up internally and find the best political minds and organizers they can mine from the left. With an activist Ontario Federation of Labour, this shouldn’t be a hard task.

They have no other choice: they have to finally put their progressive rhetoric into action or left-wing Ontarians should walk away and start something new.

Whether or not “the party” sees this is an entirely different question that I’ll no doubt get to write about in a few months.

Photo from http://www.peggysattler.ca

Ken Coran: The ultimate betrayal

4 Jul

Coran at Queen's ParkWhen Léo Bureau-Blouin announced that he would run for the Parti Québecois, right after year of student protests where he was the leader of one of the three coordinating groups, he was rightfully called out. As the president of the FECQ, his target during the protests was the Liberal government of Jean Charest, a tuition fee increase of up to 71 per cent and the attack on civil liberties, Law 78.

LBB was elected. His party did stop the Liberal’s hike, but brought in their own at 3 per cent annually. They repealed Law 78, though he was silent when his party passed another special law to interfere with the strike of construction workers. He was held up as a new voice of youth during the election. Marois has ensured that he’s remained obedient and silent.

While he was the weakest and least progressive of the three student leaders during the strike, LBB was still a symbol for the power that exists when people take to the streets. When that power is transferred into government, clearly, it evaporates. The ruling party got itself a pet; a star candidate; a symbol for how great they must be for students, and then have screwed students ever since.

Total win for Marois. Probably a win for LBB too, if he doesn’t care much about respect. Loss for the students that he once represented who will pay 3 per cent more in tuition fees in the fall, at institutions who had their budgets cut by 5 per cent.

The Ontario Liberals have just announced their own star candidate.

Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, announced that he will run for the Liberal Party in the riding of London West.

Yes, right off the heels of the most outrageous interference into collective bargaining by the Ontario government possibly ever, one of the presidents of the unions who were stomped on, is running for his political enemies.

Making this even more hilarious is that he’ll be replacing Chris Bentley: the scandal-ridden MPP who resigned while facing a motion of censure for concealing the documents that explained how much the gas plant scandals cost (about $600 million). Chris was also the Minister who ushered in Ontario’s tuition fee policy that saw fees rise by up to 8 per cent, annually, for seven years.

Coran is a nice guy. He probably thinks he can do some positive things in this role, especially with a the new leader who has tried to distance herself from McGuinty’s policies and strategies. But for the members of OSSTF who had their right to collectively bargain eliminated and were forced to take a concessions contract, this is a slap in the face. Like the PQ’s poaching of LBB: good for them, bad for the students, or teachers.

Coran’s entry into provincial politics is only possible thanks to the complete moral bankruptcy that exists at Queen’s Park: no ideology, no politics, just populism and vacant slogans that mean less than the paper they’re printed on.

If Coran was an ambitious politician-in-waiting, should he have run for the NDP? While his decision to support the party that killed teachers’ rights to collectively bargain is objectively offensive, in this politically-vacant-populist-do-what-it-takes-to-get-elected world, it makes perfect sense that he’d choose the Liberals: they’re a stronger party, with more credibility than the NDP. He can argue that he can do more from the inside than the outside, that he can support teachers from Toronto.

And he’ll try, and he’ll fail.

The hypocrisy demonstrated by Coran is deeply frustrating, especially for union activists, but the reality of democracy in Canada is that it’s a complete joke. The NDP can develop a slogan like “Run to Win” (the NDP’s 1 Corinthians 9:24-inspired slogan that no party ever thought of using…ever) and not be dismissed outright as a bunch populist hacks.  The PCs are the only party with an ideological yardstick, yet Hudak remains to be seen as Satan’s spawn (or at the very least, the handmaiden of Satan, Mike Harris). Is it any wonder that voters are deeply disenfranchised?

For union members and progressive people, Coran’s appointment is a reminder that our victories will not be won at Queen’s Park, no matter what the outcome is of this election. If 15 per cent off car insurance, in two years, maybe, is the best the NDP can win when it holds the balance of power, and if the Liberals are just mini Harrisites who take longer to wreak the same havoc, policies that will make peoples’ lives better from Queen’s Park are a long way off.

There is power in collective bargaining and there is power in the streets. In an era where the power wielded by legislatures across Canada resembles more a Medieval fiefdom than a modern democracy, Canadians must rely on extra-parliamentary channels like never before.

And when movement leaders sell out their movements on a dime, we have to take back our movements, challenge our leadership and be clear that if they betray us, we won’t forget.

Who can save the Ontario political left?

6 May

Picture 22This past weekend, Québec Solidaire’s econmic platform, the Plan Vert was officially launched. The campaign is a response to Liberal (and now PQ) Plan Nord, premised on resource extraction and exploitation of Québec’s north. It focuses on investing in the following initiatives:

  • transitioning Québec toward green energies
  • the mass development of public transportation (especially outside of the large cities)
  • the mass transition toward energy efficiency and social housing
  • developing cooperatives and collectively-run businesses
  • taking back control over natural resources.

There is also a focus on food sovereignty and finding local food solutions for Québecers, especially in regions under-serviced by local food production.

The campaign was launched in the middle of Québec Solidaire’s national congress, a congress that was criticized by many members (including me) for having too much of a focus on electoral gains, absent of the necessary political analysis that anchors QS firmly on the left.

But when the Plan Vert was presented, my fears about an electoralist, populist shift to the right were somewhat calmed. Yes, while the campaign is set to start in the fall, work should commence immediately. Yes, the Plan Vert should have included the role that tax evasion and corruption play in slowing or stopping progressive environmental policies from being implemented (as one member mentioned to me).

And, most importantly, yes, activists within the party have to remain diligent in defending its progressive core, especially as the party grows and external pressures will force it towards the centre.

But regardless, the Plan Vert is a solid platform upon which activists can organize. It’s an example of what a political party with any ideology should do: present its own agenda based on the internal policy work undertaken by its members. For a party like QS, policy work isn’t confined to members alone, as the party takes its cues from the experts: social movements.

During the campaign launch, and as I have yet to shed all aspects of my Ontarioness, I couldn’t help but feel really, really sorry for my friends and family back home for whom there is no similar political party.

Instead, the Ontario NDP is, again, engaging the public in an online survey. On their website, they announce that they have a new toll-free number and website that will help them help Ontarians, “…have their say on:

  • How to make the budget more accountable to Ontarians and how to make government more transparent
  • Cost saving measures that will balance the budget without jeopardizing services
  • Fair and affordable ways to fund transportation and transit
  • Firm guarantees to deliver on government commitments
  • Reflecting the needs of every region across the province”

OK, ignoring the syntax problems that exist with the final two bullet points (have their say on reflecting? Really?) this is an example of what happens when a party with a progressive mission and core loses its political compass.

The slow, decades-long slide towards electoralism has left Ontarians with no realistic, progressive options at the ballot box. What’s worse is that the Plan Nord is modeled on Ontario’s Ring of Fire, a plan that will be equally or more destructive to Northern Ontario and the ONDP is nowhere on demanding the destructive elements of the Ring of Fire be stopped.

Short of a miracle dropping the scales from the collective eyes of the ONDP, social movements are the only hope that Ontarians have. Social movements will either have to take the ONDP (back) by force or start something new: the situation is too desperate to allow for the space on the left to be occupied by this.

The Plan Vert offers Québecers a real alternative: liberation from neo-liberal policies, as one delegate said this weekend. After the liberation from the Liberals landed more austerity in the form of PQ broken election policies, the direction that Québec must take if we are to free ourselves from the influences of profit and the destruction of resource extraction, should be more clear than ever before.

But Canadians, especially people involved in the NDP and its provincial branches, can take from the strategies presented within the Plan Vert too. We cannot defeat austerity if we don’t offer alternatives. We cannot build confidence among citizens if we refuse to show them that there exist alternatives.

And we certainly cannot ignore these alternatives while hiding behind a toll-free number or tweeting a website. If the ONDP hasn’t found the answers to the questions they posed, how do they expect the average Ontarian to be able to solve transit funding on their own, for example? This isn’t democracy, it a democratic mirage that actually undermines the confidence people might have in the ONDP. It’s deeply disenfranchising and it’s an insult to everyone who suffers as a result of austere policies.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But once you see what Québec Solidaire has made possible, especially in spite of our deeply broken political system and with just two representatives elected, it’s hard to look at the strategies of the ONDP in any other way.

Drawing blood from stones: the relentless tuition fee hike

28 Mar

ABasQPsmallOntario announced a new tuition fee framework today. It’s the first time that the Liberal government has changed it in seven years

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty punched students in the face with a five per cent, on average, fee increase. It was supposed to last four years, but was extended, painfully, until 2012.

During the 2011 Ontario election, the Liberals introduced a grant to help offset the burden of these fees for some students. To those of us who spent days analyzing the Liberal proposal and strategy, it was clear that they had hoped to divert some of the negative attention on their tuition policy by offering a confusing, runner-up prize.

In the same vein, the kinder, gentler Liberal party, now lead by a grandmother rather than a seemingly ageless dad, is trying to help students out.

Today, they announced that the fee increases: 5% for most programs, 8% for the programs where university administrators want to screw students the hardest, has been replaced with 3% and 5% respectively.

McGuinty’s (and now Wynne’s) fee increases were historic: they pushed Ontario’s fees to be the most expensive and they allowed for different fees to be charged to different programs. Today’s increase puts tuition on track to double under the Liberal reign alone.

Now, students sitting in a second-year elective are paying a combination of a bunch of different fees for the same class. I say “a bunch” because I stopped counting at 10 different combinations, depending on the year they started, the actual year of the class, their program of study or their citizenship. Yes, added bureaucracy is necessary to keep track of these divisions. Yes, students will pay more and receive the same instruction as other students.

This was a clever idea: charge incoming students the most (because high school students don’t protest), charge engineering students the most (because they’re way too busy to protest), charge graduate students the most (because they’re too busy rocking back and forth under their desks to protest) and charge international students the most (because Jason Kenney will deport them if they protest).

For some, it has meant an increase of more than 71%.

High tuition fees are the best example of the insanity of austerity. Despite the fact that people who are better educated will earn more and pay more taxes (thereby paying for the cost of their education), Kathleen Wynne and her Neoliberal crew don’t care about the facts. They care about privatization. They care about eliminating the public system by stealth so that they don’t have to pay for it.

Indeed, Liberal, Tory… you know the rest.

Some “student groups” call it a step in the right direction. Of course, it isn’t. It’s a smaller step in the same direction. And, when walking towards a cliff, any steps in the direction of the cliff will lead to the same result. Wynne has smaller legs than McGuinty, this is just a difference in stride.

Actual students know that any tuition fee increase is simply going to exacerbate an already crisis situation. The Liberals hope that the pressures that are created by high tuition fees will be enough to continue to keep Ontario students quiet. And, it may. The crushing combination of high fees, high rents, youth unemployment and needing to, you know, live, depoliticizes and disenfranchises.

But, there is a breaking point. The question will just be how it manifests among Ontarians.

Today’s announcement does not come in a vacuum. The sustained political pressure that students have placed on the Liberals has helped to “win” this policy. The highly unpopular 30% off grant exposed a floundering, rudderless Liberal party that realized that they were losing the war over the message. Ontario students should take some comfort in that.

But the other political context, the waves made by the student protests last year in Québec must also be considered. The impact their protests had on Ontarians, to teach that another system is possible, cannot be understated. The Maple Spring created spaces in Ontario where student activists could actually talk about free tuition fees and be taken seriously by their peers.

That’s the power of a peoples’ movement: raising consciousness and building capacity. Ontario was lucky to benefit from some side effects. Québec students will be reaping the harvest of their work for years to come, and the story isn’t anywhere near finished yet.

But the 3% fee increase is a necessary reminder: Wynne, bowing to pressure and trying to distance herself publicly from McGuinty settled on a tuition fee increase lower than the past seven years. In Québec, Pauline Marois picked the same percentage to increase students’ fees, despite the fact that she rolled in on a wave that was absolutely opposing a hike. What’s the lesson here?

The line between demands made by social movements and minor policy changes is sometimes direct, sometimes crooked and most times non-existent. Marois tricked Québecers into voting PQ and turned around and went all Charest on them. Wynne was elected as the moderately progressive alternative and has turned around and gone all McGuinty on Ontarians.

Meanwhile, students in both provinces will be paying 3% more next fall.

Political ideology is the domain of the Conservatives. Today, the remaining Neoliberal parties are populist, gauging where public interest is and governing accordingly. Under these conditions neither Ontarians nor Québecers have any chance of witnessing fundamental change. Austerity and populism has too great a control over the brains of our politicians. Instead, we’ll have to force it.

What the student movement in Québec does is reminds us that these battles, if fought and won in the streets, will be won by the people. The campaign will last longer than a semester. It’s origins will be theorizable but it’s effects can only be told in retrospect. Its existence gives hope and a path to follow.

So Ontarians, how will you play your hand?

MUHC, ORNGE and the banality of corruption

1 Mar
Porter

Arthur Porter and Stephen Harper celebrate Montreal’s newest hospital. This is a photo of a photo that appeared in the Globe and Mail, late 2012.

Whenever the snow starts to melt, I notice smells re-emerge that I had forgotten about, like of the wood of my hallways or of the White Birch paper plant.

Normally, the stench of corruption isn’t hidden by the whims of catastrophic climate chaos. But in the case of the SNC Lavalin saga, have been relatively quiet throughout winter’s freeze. Until the snow started to melt.

Based in Montreal, SNC Lavalin is an engineering firm that has projects around the world. When Wikileaks released its diplomatic cables, one of the few Canadian mentions in the documents was SNC Lavalin’s contract to build prisons in Libya. But, good news: they also build stadiums and hospitals in Canada.

Ex-CEO of SNC Lavalin Pierre Duhaime has been twice charged for corruption, most recently this week. The charges apparently stem from SNC Lavalin having been awarded a contract for the construction of a hospital in Montreal in 2010. SNC Lavalin’s former head of construction, Riadh Ben Aissa, is also facing charges and is in custody in Switzerland.

At issue is $56 million in missing funds. After an internal investigation found this, Duhaime resigned from the CEO position in early 2012.

The recent charges against Duhaime were also brought against others involved in the hospital’s construction. Arthur Porter, former CEO of the McGill University Health Centre, was charged for actions that related to the construction of the new hospital in Montreal. Yanai Elbaz, the MUHC’s director of redevelopment, was charged too. The charges include accepting bribes, conspiracy and committing fraud against the government.

Porter is a friend of Stephen Harper’s and was recruited by the MUHC board to move the project along.

He was twice-appointed to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, including as its head, an organization that Tom Mulcair called yesterday “…what is essentially Canada’s CIA.” Now wanted for fraud, he used to chair the committee that oversees CSIS.

Porter is currently in the Bahamas and, apparently, is too sick to travel to face these charges.

With Québec’s Charbonneau Commission taking most of corruption-related headlines, these new charges are a helpful reminder that corruption in our system is rampant. Taken together, these examples are evidence that corruption touches all levels of government, including the leaders’ offices of the City of Montreal, the Province of Québec and the Government of Canada.

Makes you feel really great about doing your best to be honest when handling money, doesn’t it?

The most important part of these stories of corruption, and the McGill University Health Centre in particular, is that its wrapped up in two of the Ministries where the largest sums of money are doled out: education and health care.

Somehow, these folks found a way to skim off tens of millions of dollars for themselves in the construction of a university hospital: a place where babies are born and children and adults die. A place fundamental to the health, well-being or end of all of our lives. A place where students will learn how to care for others, find ways to extend humans’ lives and practice the art of medicine.

Indeed, nothing is sacred.

Québec isn’t the only province with corruption problems.

When you consider that E-Health cost $1 billion in Ontario yet produced nothing, and that the Air Ambulance (ORNGE) scandal also bled millions from Ontarians’ health ministry, corruption starts to look like part of the system rather than an anomaly.

Throughout the ORNGE developments, Chris Mazza has been the fall guy. Mazza has been painted as the scheming mastermind behind the scandal; an isolated incident that implicated a single, greedy man.

Surely, Mazza didn’t act alone but the scandal hasn’t taken down too many outside of the ORNGE inner circle until this week. ORNGE’s latest victim is actually Mount Sinai hospital’s top doctor. On Feb. 28, the Star reported that Tom Stewart, the physician-in-chief and the director of the medical/surgical intensive care unit at Mount Sinai resigned after the completion of a damming report.

The hospital’s report showed that Stewart and Mazza were friends and helped each other out. ORNGE paid Stewart $436,000 to advise Mazza and Mount Sinai paid Mazza $256,000 without evidence that he completed the work required for such a sum.  This is on top of their salaries, which the Star reports were $1.9 million at ORNGE for Mazza and $607,000 for Stewart in 2011.

But don’t worry. Stewart’s resignation does not mean he loses his job as a doctor at the hospital. He gets to keep that.

Writing this has made me both sick and totally angry. Corruption will occur if people aren’t paying attention and Canadians suffer from wide-spread disenfranchisement. But what do you do when the politicians who are elected to pay attention either aid or ignore corruption when it surfaces?

Aside from having anti-corruption task forces in every government ministry and creating a standing committee on corruption to catch corruption after the fact, I’m not sure there’s much the system can do to stop it. That’s partly because I’m convinced corruption is possible not because someone isn’t paying enough attention to it, but because our political and economic system depend on it.

When money disappears, the argument that “we can’t afford” something becomes true: missing money is money that cannot be spent elsewhere. Corruption not only aides austerity, but it makes austerity necessary, just like low corporate taxes and an increase in paying for private contracts to administer public services.

Fortunately, corruption is still a bad word to most Canadians. If the NDP or the Ontario NDP were looking for a quick way to boost their support, they should promise to immediately instate anti-corruption taskforces. After all, federally, they have 146 of years of government to examine and their hands will stay clean.

But to truly stop this kind of corruption, we need to connect the dots between who is scratching who’s back and realize that citizens all small players in a larger scheme that makes corruption not only possible, but normal. It’s just how capitalism goes.

If the system is rotten from the inside out, painting its exterior is not going to fix anything.

 

I do not endorse the ad below but refuse to purchase the “no ads” WordPress account.

11 clues that the PCs’ 11 Paths to Prosperity is a joke

14 Feb
Image

Commentary on their own satirical policy document, through tableau (Toronto Star)

While I’m not sure others did, I totally got the joke.

I saw people responding to the Progressive Conservatives’ White Paper on higher education and thought, “Boy, they’re going to be embarrassed when they realize that this is a joke.”

As the party panders to elitists, there are many clues dropped into the paper that can be hard to spot for your average Joe Blow journalist. Most Ontarians may think that Hudak’s proposal should be taken seriously.

Luckily, I’m no Joe Blow. I spent a solid six minutes identifying these clues so that you don’t have to sound like an idiot the next time you mention this plan to your local PC MPP at the Victoria Day Long-Weekend Fair. (In Georgetown, that event was called the Bang-o-rama. No one wants to look like a moron in front of Ted Chudleigh at the Bang-o-rama).

The paper, called Paths to Prosperity offers eleven paths that would drastically change how university and college education is delivered. Clue number 1 that this is a joke? One cannot take eleven paths at the same time.

Obviously penned by a staff writer at The Onion, Paths to Prosperity contains 10 other references that indicate that none of the document should be taken seriously. For example, it hilariously refers to private careers colleges as, “one of our most efficient paths to employment” (clue number 2: no they aren’t, though they are a path to lots of student debt).

The 24-page document starts off with a letter from Hudak that says, “[PSE] gives us all a chance to reach higher….” This is clue number 3: Reaching Higher has been the name given to the Liberal’s higher education policies since 2006. Had this not been written in jest, surely the pale and awkward fellow writing on Hudak’s behalf at PC HQ would have been caned by now.

Clue number 4 is that the Globe and Mail quoted the CEO of Colleges Ontario as having “lauded” the recommendation. Despite all other sectoral stakeholders agreeing that allowing colleges to slap the label “degree” on their diplomas is a stupid idea, CO’s unfettered support for anything that leads them closer to the rank of “real” administrator (like the president of Algoma University), is a clue that this document cannot be serious.

The PCs also include a graph that they cite from the Drummond Report, which Drummond cites as being from the Ontario Undergrad Student Alliance (OUSA). It represents the percentage change of several university costs over five years, in a pie graph. This is clue 5. Remember when you were young and you learned about graphs and you wanted to make everything into a pie graph even if there was no 100% total for the pie to be whole? Well, OUSA got all Grade 3 on us and made a graph that expresses several years of inflationary changes as 100% of something, then divides the pie to demonstrate that (shockingly!) professors’ salaries have been the largest point of growth. Maybe its because there has been more professors hired to handle the tens of thousands of new students in the system. Maybe its because professors get wages that have been agreed to by administrators through collective bargaining. Either way, a pie isn’t the way for an adult to represent this data. The authors must have snuck it in because it would be hilarious. Which it is.

Clue 6 is that they entirely neglected to talk about research, the core of the academic mission of all universities and, increasingly, colleges. That would be like presenting six streams to improve dairy farming in Ontario and forgetting to mention cattle feed or pasteurization. Or like analyzing this paper and pretending that it’s real.

Crazier than that, clue 7, is that they actually argue that many universities should stop doing research. You know, become more like colleges. Which makes sense in the context of clue 8, the promise to allow high school students to earn college credits from their high school credits.

With high school the new college and college the new university, we’re left to assume that in Hudak’s world, marriage is the new dating and retirement home flings are the new marriage. And then we die at 130 years old.

You probably didn’t read that far into the document, as it’s really hard to get through, but by this point, the joke is obvious.

For the few who are still reading, and who may still take this piece of satire for reality, the PCs envelop our critical faculties in the end with a black hole devoid of intellectual matter.

Their big idea is to tie student loans to the academic success of students. So, if you get As, you get more loans. If you fail, you’re out of loans. This would create a world-class system where the dumbest rich kids and the smartest poor kids could hopefully study together, breed together and cancel out the politically worst elements of society for the Progressive Conservative Party. Actually, while this is clue 9, it’s the only point that actually makes sense. A possible Freudian slip from the PC satirist author.

The penultimate clue, 10, is that they argue for elite education to cost more and regulated by out-of-touch, non-elected, unaccountable university Boards of Governors rather than government. This will mean a whole lot more rich kids will become lawyers, regardless of their thinking capacities, and a whole lot more poor kids will go to college, study online or not go to school at all.

If you were looking for the ultimate social experiment when income segmentation is intensified, the PCs got you.

Unlike Shakespeare, who littered his plays comic relief to save us from the depressing worlds of Macbeth and King Lear, the PCs have pulled a full-on SNL with Pathways to Prosperity, even down to the fact that the document runs a little long and the joke becomes tired before the end of the sketch.

Unfortunately, there will be people who don’t think this is farce. There will be people who claim to believe that these proposals would improve higher education, like Linda Franklin at Colleges Ontario, whose job is to parrot the megalomaniacal intentions of the Senecas of the world to become the Yorks of the world, at all costs to the quality they deliver.

If these recommendations were serious, they would not only not improve any aspect of the higher education system. Like Glen Murray’s hair-brained scheme “three cubed,” this White Paper would effectively block middle-income youth from universities, low-income youth from anything and give rich kids more of a free pass than they currently have.

But, it has to be satire. No one in their right mind would call a policy paper with implications such as these, a “White” paper in a non-ironic way (clue 11).

Survey says: The ONDP is out of ideas

8 Feb
Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 2.01.56 PM

It’s surprisingly hard to find photos of Horwath speaking at rallies.

What is up with the Ontario NDP?

During the last election, rather than offering Ontarians a vision for the province that was a real alternative to the austerity policies of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP promised every Ontarian relief from the HST on their home heating bills.

The chorus around hydro was so loud that it drowned out other, moderately more progressive, though equally boring policies. The sum total was an election where I held my nose and encouraged myself to not vote for the Northern Ontario Heritage Party candidate running in my Toronto riding.

(I didn’t know that party existed, though I figured the word “heritage” was a code word for “racist” as it sometimes is in Canada.)

I bring up the last Ontario election because that was the last time the NDP’s policies directly affected me, as an Ontarian. Aside from their disappointing budget negotiations last spring where they could have maybe saved the ONTC, the election was the last time the NDP had the chance to impress me as a potential voter. Then I left Ontario for Québec.

Despite the neoliberal policies of the Parti Québécois, they make the Ontario NDP look like the Progressive Conservatives. With a vision of Québec that is slightly less neoliberal than the Liberal party’s, the Ontario NDP could learn a lot from the PQ’s social democratic approach.

The key to their success is producing (and implementing) a platform that more or less resembles what they believe Québecers want: an end to corruption in politics, a moratorium on fracking, banning asbestos mining, a tuition fee freeze (the NDP promised that in the 2011 election), 15,000 new public childcare spaces and increasing taxes on top income earners.

With a particular ideology, the PQ has offered a program that they have used to entice Québecers to support them.

For some reason, the NDP has instead relied on the use of online surveys to determine their political priorities. It was this survey approach that some NDP activists used to justify their weak policies during the 2011 election. During the election, Ontarians apparently “had their say” to make HST off home heating the big issue of the election for the NDP.

And they’re trying it again.

This past fall, the NDP should have jumped on McGuinty’s prorogued government and turned it into a rallying point. They should have staged protests across the province, pretended to govern anyway, issued daily press releases with the issue that the NDP caucus would be highlighting each day, invited Liberal and PC MPPs to join them in their mock government, flooded radio phone-in shows with stories about their dedication to democracy, rejuvenated the campaign for electoral reform or basically anything else that was something.

Instead, there wasn’t a whole lot. The teachers’ negotiations dominated the headlines and the NDP was almost completely absent from the debate.

And when the OFL impressively mobilized nearly 30,000 people out front of the Liberal Convention, in many ways the culmination of the battle waged by the teachers, Andrea Horwath wasn’t among the speakers. Was this labour’s fault? The NDP’s? I don’t know. But if I were running the NDP, I’d have every single NDP MPP, staffer and activist all over that rally as if it were lifeboats being dropped off the side of the titanic, whatever it took.

Now, faced with a leader who may actually appear more progressive than Horwath at the Liberal Party, the NDP has returned to their favoured form of policy development: another survey.

You can tell Andrea your priorities because, apparently, she’s run out of her own.

In the fight against the Liberals, here’s what is supposed to inspire Ontarians:

  • End corporate tax loopholes (this is just related to the HST)
  • On-the-job training for youth
  • Opening doors-to-employment
  • 15% cut to auto insurance rates
  • 5 day home care guarantee for seniors
  • Balanced approach to balancing the budget

This is supposed to differentiate them from the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. This is supposed to be inspiring.

If the NDP is going to start convincing Ontarians to vote for progressive policies, rather than just picking up the scraps left behind by even less impressive Liberal and PC parties, they’re going to have to do better.

Why not promise to do something actually progressive? Why not demonstrate to Ontarians why the left exists and that it’s capable enough to fight for a more just and equitable world? Why pretend that on-the-job training for youth (more unpaid internships??) will do anything to help a generation of young people who are drowning in debt and cobbling together shitty contract with shitty contract to get by?

If it’s crowdsourcing that the NDP has opened itself up to in this process, then, fine. Here’s a list that can be crowdsourced.

  • Immediately instate $5/day publicly subsidized childcare
  • Create a Green Ontario plan that would halt mining on traditional Indigenous territory, increase rail connections, reinvest in the ONTC, invest in alternative energy sources and phase out nuclear power.
  • Reverse McGuinty’s tuition fee increases (a reduction of up to 71%).
  • Create a new tax bracket for people making more than $150,000
  • Launch a corruption probe into the affairs of the Liberal Party to investigate ORNGE, E-Health and the Mississauga gas plan closure.

I really want Ontarians to have a progressive, uniting force that can take down neoliberal politicians and I’m not naïve: the NDP isn’t supposed to be this force. But in its desperate reach for populism while still occupying space on the “left” it prohibits any other opportunities for activists to build an alternative to the party.

Instead, progressives are expected to lobby the NDP the way they would lobby the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, through meetings and online surveys.

It’s no wonder the party seems to be struggling to reach people. By and large, its relationship with the left is somewhere between damaged and non-existent.

In Québec, the Parti Québecois’ brand of populism and social democratic rule wasn’t good enough for the left. The result has been the creation of Québec solidaire, born out of social movement organizations.

Ontario isn’t Québec but progressives from both regions should learn from each other: either the NDP must be turned into a fighting, progressive force, or it can’t continue to be the only party on the “left.”

Because unfortunately, the status quo is letting austerity win.

Photo taken from: http://niagaraatlarge.com/2011/01/03/head-north-young-doctors-%E2%80%A6-far-away-from-fort-erie/

Supporting Ontario teachers

23 Jan

Screen shot 2013-01-23 at 2.03.41 PMAll progressive struggles are connected, even when those connections can be hard to determine. Drawing these connections is not always easy. Neoliberalism has fractured our communities and conservatives (Conservatives and Liberals alike) have pitted one sector against the other to be able to control our organizing. Progressive people have to work to repair these damaged relationships and better connect the struggle with which they are most connected, to others happening in their communities, provinces or country.

In Ontario, Premier Dalton McGuinty has capitalized on division in his campaign against Ontario’s teachers. In an attempt to fight against his tactics, a group of activists and I created this Q&A on Bill 115 and teachers’ struggles. Feel free to share it, add to it in the comment section or offer your feedback.

While Bill 115 is about to be repealed, because much of its contents was forced upon teachers in a contract, its elements will remain.

What is Bill 115?
Bill 115 imposes a contract on all education workers (teachers, educational assistants, custodians, social workers, secretaries and lunchroom workers), some of who earn minimum wage. In early 2013, the McGuinty government intervened in the relationship between “management” (school boards) and the unions’ normal negotiation processes and forced a contract through legislation on all public elementary and secondary school workers.

The Liberals announced that they intend to repeal Bill 115 once implemented, proof that is unfair and likely unconstitutional because it restricts collective bargaining rights. If the legislation is eventually challenged for its constitutionality, there won’t be anything that can be done to change it, as it won’t exist any longer.

Really??
Yes. This is dirty politics at its worst. BIll 115 also doesn’t allow for appeals to the Labour Board or a third party arbitrator. No recourse exists to challenge or change the Act. This is why many teachers have resorted to withholding work that they would normally do as volunteers. Unfortunately, students who rely on extracurriculars, and the majority of teachers who love coaching or supervising clubs, suffer the most.

The government knew that this would be teachers’ only recourse and are banking on it damaging teachers’ image with the public to lose public support.

What are the biggest problems with the imposed contracts?
These imposed contracts undercut the role of the elected School Board trustees as management to determine what they think is best for their communities. It also removes teachers’ elected representatives from negotiating a fair contract for education workers. The Ontario government is circumventing two forms of democratic representation and forcing its will on both sides of the bargaining table.

In addition to the wage freeze, Bill 115 changes how sick days can be accrued. Teachers get no vacation pay. Instead, they are paid for 10 months of work, pro-rated over 12 months. Previously, many teachers could bank unused sick days and have them paid out much like workers’ vacation days or time in lieu. The new “use ‘em or lose ‘em” policy means sick days will now cost double what it used to to pay them out (when factoring in the cost of sick day usage and paying for supply teachers).

But teachers have it pretty easy. I do tough physical labour all day. They play with kids.
As with all workers, teachers are dedicated; they know it is a privilege to work with, advise and mentor your kids. On an assembly line, defective parts are thrown out–but teachers cannot just discard the kids that need extra help.

The impact teachers have on the lives and outcomes of our children is profound. If our government treats teachers like this, you can bet that they will treat other workers just as poorly.

I’m confused; didn’t Dalton McGuinty resign?
Yes, but even though he’s stopped all business of the Ontario Legislature since early October, he decided to stay Premier until the Liberal Party’s leadership race in late January. Every decision that he has made since he prorogued parliament has been done without the democratic force of our government behind it.

It sounds like he’s trying to use the teachers as a distraction.
Probably. Remember that he resigned and prorogued government amid allegations that his party wasted hundreds of millions of dollars in the temporary closure of a gas plant in Mississauga. His minister of energy, Chris Bentley, was facing a motion of censure that could have landed him in jail.

Will this affect me as a worker in another sector?
Yes. The teachers are being used as a test case. If the government is able to interfere in the collective bargaining process of a sector, even if the interference may be unconstitutional, they will use similar tactics against other workers. Bill 115 has allowed the McGuinty government to circumvent the only democratic process that workers have, and force them to take concession contracts.

Do you really think the government would come after private sector workers in the same way?
As industries change and as foreign ownership continues to play a role in labour politics, the Ontario government is going to look for what pieces of anti-union legislation to keep wages low and boost corporate profits. The closure of the Electro-Motive plant in London is proof that our governments are uninterested in protecting workers. Just as we will fight U.S.-style Right to Work legislation when it appears in Canada, we have to fight Ontario anti-union legislation in other sectors.

The Liberals only react when they think it will cost them votes or support. This means that all workers have to oppose Bill 115 and support education workers, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because when we’re targeted by these policies, we’ll need support.

General Assemblies, student movements and Québec’s cégeps

6 Nov

Half of the members’ meeting at Ryerson Students’ Union, Nov, 2010 (courtesy: The Eyeopener)

Having watched most of the Québec student protests from Ontario, I’ve obviously spent hours thinking about the differences between the Québec student movement and the Ontario student movement. And I’ve come up with a few theories that I hope to write into something…someday.

Luckily, others have similar questions as I do. Doug Nesbitt, PhD student at Queen’s and the local PSAC president, has done some thinking on this. And so, because I’ve spent most of my day dealing with the bureaucracy of the state in French and my brain is fried, I’m sharing with you what he’s posted at his blog. Nothing I write next will be as good as his analysis…

Doug focuses on the role of General Assemblies and how they have helped to build Québec’s movement into what it is today. I agree that GAs have been critical to politicizing generations of students. They have helped to circumvent conservative student leadership and maintain the necessary accountability of those students who “float to the top” of a formal students’ union’s executive.

But I can’t believe that it’s *just* General Assemblies. While GAs politicize students who attend them, what is the factor getting students in the door in the first place?

At Ryerson, our General Meetings would normally reach 150 students while more contentious meetings may have topped out at 400. At McMaster University last year, thanks to a heavy advertising campaign and the promise of the MOST AMAZING FROSH WEEK EVAAARRRR more than 600 students attended the MSU GA to vote in favour of an ancillary fee hike. It’s hard to explain how this is possible if we look only at the GA model and how it has fueled generations of activists in Québec. These Ontario examples don’t make sense.

I think that the most significant reason for the differences in the student movements in Ontario and Québec isn’t just the decision-making structure, it’s the role of cégeps.

During my time in the student movement, I always found graduate/second degree/college transfer students easier to organize. They came to their new educational tier with baggage: debt from a previous degree/diploma/certificate, experience (sometimes negative) from another degree (and even school) and maturity that grew out of their first round of post-secondary education. They spent more time in the system and were more ready to challenge what they had witnessed in their first educational experiences as being unjust, but not necessarily having the time, opportunity or willingness to act. I found my work to explain the effects of debt, tuition fees, large classes etc. was always easier with these students as they had an experience that we could link the facts to.

Imagine if Ontario’s colleges were full of students who had already done a few years at college? Imagine every student walked into a university already having experienced the soul-crushing bureaucracy of higher education? The context for organizing would be entirely different.

There’s a reason why cégep students lead the strikes in Québec. The dangerous combination of free higher education, a radicalizing movement and participatory democracy blew up into an amazing student strike. And every university student involved in the strike had been introduced to the student movement either directly or indirectly through their time at cégep.

This has to be said: identifying this difference isn’t to say that it is impossible for Ontario students to organize provincially in the way Québec students have. I think it’s critical that if Ontario students are going to figure out how best to carve out their own movement, the right analyses of the differences (and similarities) are necessary to lead to appropriate organizing techniques.

I have a lot more to say about this…and it’s later than I had intended to be up (and I wrote more than I intended to write) but I will flesh this out. I’m interested in feedback too, as always, but especially on this. The history of the student movement (or movements) hasn’t been told well enough…and who better to tell it than those of us who’ve been there.

The Province of Northern Ontario

5 Oct

George Orwell warned us. Somehow he knew that the future would be marked by the use of words that mean one thing but that mean another.

In many ways, it should have been inconceivable (I don’t think it means what you think it means).

I’m thinking of this because I came across the use of one of these doublespeak words while looking up an article for this post.

Sustainable.

Here’s a definition I copied and pasted. With my French classes making me comb through dictionaries 68 times a day, I don’t feel like transcribing what my Canadian Oxford Dictionary says. But, you’ll get the point.

sus·tain·a·ble/səˈstānəbəl/

Adjective:
  1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
  2. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources

The least popular Liberal in Northern Ontario, Rick Bartolucci used the word “sustainable” to justify the divestment in the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, according to the North Bay Nugget.

In the release, Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci says the divestment of the ONTC is necessary to promote sustainable transportation and telecommunications services in the North – now and in the future.

“This thorough and competitive sales process will ensure the buyer selected for Ontera is best able to meet provincial priorities to deliver telecommunications services, stimulate the economy, sustain jobs and provide value for taxpayers,” he said.

You got that?

Turning over the telecommunications infrastructure and service of Northern Ontario to a private corporation will ensure the sustainability of phone service in the North. Divesting in rail and bus service will ensure the sustainability of transportation in the North.

I’ll repeat: removing the public accountability inherent in these organizations (through, you know, democracy), Northerners will be better served by Rogers or Coach Canada or…you know, the likely replacement in the case of most transportation services….nothing. Jobs will be lost. Workers will be paid less. Services will suffer.

It’s easy to ignore that companies like Greyhound nearly cancelled routes in Northwestern Ontario because they’re not profitable enough (though a public pressure campaign convinced the company to keep some services). Forget the fact that the ONTC exists because Northern Ontario is a large place and the normal rules of capitalism haven’t really convinced politicians to create transportation systems that actually help people (rather than the mines). Let’s pretend to not remember the vast network of quasi-public (more public than private anyway) system of transportation that moves people throughout the GTA called GO Transit that also costs a lot of money to operate.

These things are forgettable for two reasons.

The first is that for most people in Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario starts at Orillia. And when the tip of the iceberg is mistaken for the entire thing, bad decisions will be made.

The second is that for the Liberal Party, they can mail a bag of turds to most Northerners and it will not likely change what people think about their party. The Liberal supporters will blame it on the kids down the street. The vast remaining majority will further despise the party.

So, attacking the telecommunications network Ontera and killing the Northlander are good political decisions. They won’t likely hurt the Liberals.

(Though, as the party with arguably the most support in the North, the NDP made a huge political and moral mistake by not including support for the ONTC in their budget negotiations with the Liberals.)

A few weeks ago, I encouraged people to not fear discussions about Québec independence. In that same vein, I think that it’s clear: Northern Ontario needs to become its own province. Not a country, yet, but at least a province.

For many people in positions of power, the North, especially with the Liberal’s drooly romance with the Ring of Fire, seems to be nothing more than a bunch of vacant land with lots of wickedly expensive crap under the soil. For industries who will  profit from the activities in the North, infrastructure, telecommunications and quality of life of Northerners is only important insofar as it encourages and enables their profits to grow. This colonial relationship continues to drive communities into poverty and perverts local leadership to support programs that aren’t what their communities want.

Bay street doesn’t care about Sault Ste. Marie, Hearst or Geraldton. Neither does Queen’s Park. And, together, such an attitude leads to a decision like the divestment of the ONTC.

Imagine the possibilities inherent in the creation of a new province: The chance to build a transportation infrastructure that connects communities with rail and bus lines that can bring students home from Lakehead University or Northern College. Imagine starting a province where people come together to create what they want, rather than inheriting a series of messes created by the South? Imagine being able to make decisions without waiting for permission from the faraway land of Toronto.

Imagine what Northern Ontario could look like if the people in the North were the decision-makers? Imagine the possibilities for First Nations communities, many of who struggle for self-determination and some of who have successfully fought against mining or logging companies looking to profit off their “resources.”

To me, that would lead to something sustainable. That would create jobs and infrastructure that actually works for Northerners.

All communities in Canada are struggling with another form of doublespeak: where their “democracies” are less democratic and more a tyranny of the minority. In Northern Ontario, it’s clear that the current arrangement in the province does not work in the best interests of the people there and something has to change.

If Northern Ontario can’t get any respect from the South as an appendage then its time to create a new entity that could form a relationship with Toronto or Winnipeg (or Chicago) on it’s own terms.

Enough of having to beg from the scraps left over from the Greater Toronto Area.