As inequality becomes daily news, we must not become desensitized to making steps towards improvement. It may be overwhelming to be reminded about all the income disparity, environmental degradation, discrimination in the face of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, albeism, speciesism, and the seemingly never ending list. There are so many causes to get behind and what often happens, from my own personal experiences, is that on a practical level we do not have time to focus our energies on them, or even have time to enjoy other things in life for that matter, because we are too busy working.
On a provincial level, Ontario is home to growing inequality. This is perpetuated by the harmful cuts to public services that are happening in the name of prosperity.
The Ontario Common Front – an Ontario-wide coalition of more than 90 groups and organizations concerned with growing inequality – released a report showing that Ontario ranks last in Canada when measured against every important social indicator.
The report states that “economists describe the Ontario government’s fiscal plan as ‘austerity’, meaning a severe or harsh approach to budgeting.”
From social assistance being gutted, emergency funding slashed, school closures, hospital cuts, to delayed and cut child benefits, affordable housing derailed and restructuring causing massive job cuts, the report documents the harsh reality of social inequality in the province. However, Ontario is not an anomaly; austerity is the norm when it comes to social policy around the world.
In the report, 40 per cent of Ontarians (600,000 families) are struggling with incomes that are either declining or stagnant; social programs like health care and education are funded at the lowest rate in Canada; Ontario has the second highest increase in poverty rates, leaving 393,000 children in poverty; the highest school, out-of-pocket heath care and tuition fees are seen in Ontario and in the province we have seen the highest amount of tax cuts to corporate and income tax.
It is important to highlight how some of the cuts have negatively affected the communities they were designed to serve.
Liberals in late 2012 and early 2013 cut the Community and Start up Benefit with the idea they would add another funding program. This resulted in $4.2 million being cut from the Niagara Region to help with issues of homelessness and providing emergency hostels, the CSUM benefitted over 11,200 households and especially helped women and children leave domestic abuse situations.
Children’s Aid Societies (CAS) are crucial services run by independent organizations empowered by the Ontario government to perform child protection services. In 2012 CAS was restructured and wages were frozen to find nine million dollars to help balance the provincial deficit. This ongoing attack on CAS funding has left members in many agencies facing job cuts, program cuts and unmanageable workloads. In London, the last remaining CAS group was closed in 2012 due to under-funding, leading many people to question the benefit of leaving a community without these crucial services.
Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works (OW) Home Repairs Benefit has also been cut in Ontario. The Home Repairs Benefit has helped people through assistance pay for things like emergency plumbing repairs, patching a leaky roof or repairing damage from fire or floods. The cut has disproportionately affected people on ODSP, as well as people in rural and northern communities.
In 2011 The Drummond Report was commissioned by the Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty to help reduce to level of debt. Ontario’s deficit was projected to reach $16 billion in 2012, in addition to the $240 billion already owed. The idea that Ontario cannot afford to maintain its current level of public services because of the provincial fiscal crisis has obviously gained enough credibility to have changed Ontario in very significant ways.
Hugh Mackenzie from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative in Ontario’s Fiscal Reality writes, the message the Drummond Report sent was that Ontario faces fiscal catastrophe equivalent to an Armageddon unless major cuts are made to public services.
“Instead of making harmful cuts that will hurt people, we believe that our governments should ask banks and corporations to pay their fair share. After all, corporate tax cuts and loopholes deprive the Ontario budget of billions of dollars each year, while these measures have failed to deliver on promises of greater corporate investments in jobs or our economy,” the We Are Ontario web site states, launched by the Ontario Federation of Labour.
“Perhaps the most revealing thing about the Drummond report is what isn’t in it: any discussion of revenue generation. Taxes and other sources of revenue were explicitly off the table,” writes Mackenzie.
“The issues are diverse; the responses required equally varied. Yet they have one thing in common: an effective response to all of these issues requires improved public services rather than diminished public services.”
Responses to the manufacturing of this crisis have been diverse. Common Front, for example, has been a response from many groups each with their own policy analysis and alternatives to share with a common goal at eliminating the growing inequality.
A common front means is defined as an alliance between different groups, forces or interests in pursuit of a common goal or in opposition to a common enemy. Groups also maintain their autonomy within the front.
Regional common fronts have also formed. London Common Front was birthed organically when Occupy London and the Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW) showed solidarity with each other.
“London Common Front was a result of a relationship that developed when Occupy London was camped in Victoria Park and the CAW came to us with a generator. The London District Labour Council came to us with support as well. We returned this solidarity when the CAW was locked out from caterpillar’s electro-motive diesel engine plant in January. We joined them on the picket line, set up tents, a yurt, wireless internet, some food, company and the popular attention that surrounded Occupy at that time. The common front was being started at this time as a provincial effort, so London had a head start,” said Anthony Verberckmoes, organizer with London Common Front.
“This way each local network of labour, radicals, students and community groups can find common ground in fighting austerity, and engage in class struggle. These local efforts are further benefiting by being engaged in provincial actions, and engaging with each other.”
Campaign to raise the minimum wage
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), an organization that is a part of Common Front, has also been part of leading the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage. Other groups sponsoring the campaign are Freedom 90, Mennonite New Life Centre, Ontario Coalition against Poverty (OCAP), Ontario Campaign 2000, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Put Food in the Budget, Social Planning Toronto, Toronto and York Region Labour Council and the Workers’ Action Centre.
Niagara Common Front has adopted the Campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage.
As workers, it is becoming difficult to maintain a “good” standard of living. Goods are going up in price, rent is increasing, food prices are rising; but wages remain the same.
Since Ontario’s minimum wage was frozen (the last time there was an increase was in 2010), inflation has driven down minimum wage earnings 19 per cent below the poverty line. To help those leave poverty behind, the campaign pushes for having the minimum wage set 10 per cent above the poverty line. The last time there was an increase was in 2010.
The poverty line in Ontario is drawn at $19,000 after taxes for a single person, which means that minimum wage should be $14 an hour for an average work week.
There are many misconceptions about who is actually affected by low-wages. Young workers in retail and fast food are not only affected by low-wages, but 27 per cent of minimum wage workers are aged 35 and over, which has been increasing.
“Those $10.25-per-hour workers are more likely to be women, visible minorities and immigrants,” says the study by the Wellesley Institute, based on Statistics Canada data.
The type of job paying low-wages are not what is typically expected.
Jobs across many industries have wages near the bottom-end of the pay scale; jobs such as bank tellers, security guards, childcare workers, personal home support workers, teaching assistants and flight attendants, states a report from the campaign.
Since 2003, minimum wage workers have doubled from 4.3 per cent to nine per cent.
Students also have many reasons to get behind the campaign. Culturally, we champion individuals rising above challenges and becoming “successful”. Those who are going to school no doubt intend to leave behind a life of low-wage jobs. The reality is that most of the jobs being created that employ those with diplomas and degrees are part-time, temporary, low-paying, seasonal and have no benefits – increasingly precarious. It is in the best interest of students to remember that we are all in this together.
Another main concern with increasing the minimum wage is the idea that it will lead to major job loss.
“Over the past two decades, academic research has found that minimum wage increases did not lead to job loss, even during periods of high unemployment. Most provinces and territories in Canada increased their minimum wages during the recession of 2007-2009 without attributable job loss. In fact, Ontario increased its minimum wage from $7.75 to $10.25 and added almost 150,000 jobs to the sales and service sector between 2006 and 2012, where minimum wages dominate,” the campaign reveals.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has been lobbied by the provincial campaign. Wynne down played the chances that the minimum wage would be raised to $14 an hour. She said small businesses couldn’t afford the hike.
“The worst thing we could do is to raise minimum wage to a point where we actually lose jobs, and that is the fear of business and, quite frankly, our government,” Wynne said.
This does not adequately sum up the reality in Ontario, where nearly half of Ontario minimum wage earners are now working in large corporations that employ more than 500 employees.
Will the government listen to the facts that basic common sense tells us? Raising wages will reduce poverty and address the growing inequalities we can all say we are better off leaving behind.
Niagara Common Front is hosting an event on Saturday, November 9 to continue reaching out to those who want to learn more or join the campaign to Raise the Minimum Wage. Guest speaker Pam Frache will be in attendance; the event is from 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. at Club Capri, 36 Cleveland, Thorold. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 905-932-1646