Campaign to put working class demands on the table

PV Ontario Bureau

Ontario is just weeks away from a very important provincial election. Recent polls indicate that Doug Ford’s Conservatives hold a wide lead and that the NDP may be moving into second position.

It has not taken Ford long to inject an aggressive right-wing tone to the election, indicating the battle lines will be sharply drawn around questions of defending working class gains. These include the remains of the post-war reforms, like universal health care and expanded public services, as well as recent wins like the minimum wage increase and related workplace improvements.

During their leadership race, the Tories were united around blocking the minimum wage increase to $15, opposing action on climate change, and implementing a $6 billion cut to government spending. Added to this now are Ford’s pledge to scrap the province’s sex education curriculum and limit access to abortion, social conservative policies that will target women and girls, and LGBTQ youth and wider community. The

announcement that he would fast-track the Ring of Fire mining development in Northern Ontario presents a direct and serious threat to Indigenous rights as well as environmental security.

Ford’s pledges of tax and program cuts to benefit corporations and the rich are estimated to cost $25 billion over three years. This will undoubtedly be paid for by the working class, through a combination of wage and benefit cuts, service reductions, fee increases, and privatization. These policies will exacerbate the crises that already exist in areas of unemployment and precarious work, wages and benefits, and insufficient funding for health, education and social programs.

“A Conservative government would be a disaster for the working class,” says Dave McKee, Ontario leader of the Communist Party. “Ford is eerily reminiscent of former Conservative premier, Mike Harris. His campaign carried that same populist tone and hard-right platform. He even used the same slogan, ‘Make Ontario Great Again.’” The Communist Party is fielding 13 candidates in the June 7 provincial election. The Party says the working class is at a turning point: it must stop accepting different versions of business-friendly policies, and instead demand policies that place people’s needs first.

As McKee says, “The ‘lesser evil’ approach has been used repeatedly to keep out the Conservatives, but in the process the working class has stopped advancing an independent program. The result is overwhelming political dependence on either left-talking Liberals or right-shifting social democrats. Unsurprisingly, this has left the working class with a poorly organized and weakly led opposition to austerity and neoliberalism, policies which continue to reign supreme in Ontario.”

“We need to move past an electoralist approach, which compresses mass struggle into the legislative arena and subordinates labour’s independent political work to the election campaigns of a political party. We need to see the trade union movement organizing around a labour political program, mobilizing year-round and engaging the whole working class in fighting for progressive change. Through that kind of approach, labour could force political parties, candidates and governments to step up and deliver real social, economic and political alternatives.”

Unfortunately, most of what is offered as “alternative” is pretty weak.

Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are trying, again, to position themselves as the guardians of women’s rights, social programs, and a healthy economy for working people. In March, they tabled a provincial budget that promised a series of one-time boosts for a range of social programs: further subsidies for child care; increased funding for hospitals, long-term care, and mental health; expanded pharmaceutical and dental care coverage; and extended tuition grants for post-secondary education. There was nothing, however, about progressive tax reform to provide stable and adequate funding for expanded services over the long term. The housing crisis is not addressed. Nor was there any mention of economic development, short of commitments to “advocate for Ontario abroad” and increase investment in the already existing P3 infrastructure plan.

The NDP under Andrea Horwath has made policy announcements that carefully position themselves just to the left of the Liberals, without proposing truly progressive changes. For example, their announcement of OHIP pharmaceutical coverage is for a small program – less than $500 million – that would only cover drugs deemed “most essential.” This leaves out a huge range of pharmaceuticals, and people who rely upon

them, and not at all the universal pharmacare that we need. Similarly, their proposed dental coverage is limited to people without any other coverage. This is a two-tier approach that opens the door to means testing and undermines universality. Like the Liberals, the NDP has not said anything about confronting the housing crisis.

The Communist platform rests on three main pillars: (1) an economy that puts people first with a full employment strategy, increased wages and benefits, a reduced work week, and strong plant closure legislation; (2) expanded health and social programs including a massive social housing program, universal pharmacare and dental care, free public childcare, and needs-based funding for a single, secular public school system; and (3) progressive tax reform that would double the corporate tax rate, eliminate taxes for people earning less than $40,000, and abolish the provincial sales tax.

The Party is encouraging people to support Communist candidates where there is one, and to press other candidates to support the demands in the Communist platform. According to McKee, “Change is in the air in this election, and we need to fight for the most progressive change possible. This means supporting those candidates who will work for real working class demands, starting with the Communist Party’s ‘Lucky 13.’ But it also means campaigning beyond the election, to the days that follow.”

“We have to build a progressive movement, uniting and engaging the whole working class, that can win far-reaching economic, social and political reforms. This is the way to defeat the right wing, to strengthen the working class struggle, and ignite the movement for socialism. The Communist Party will work with all who are willing to fight for this progressive alternative.”

(The above article is from the May 1-15, 2018, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)