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What is happening to democracy in Ontario

Posted: February 25, 2023

(February 24, 2023)

By: Judy Rebick,

Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Credit: Premier of Ontario Photography / Flickr

What is happening to democracy in Ontario?  Last June we had an election where a Conservative government won a decisive majority of seats with 41 per cent of the popular vote and only 43.5 per cent of people even bothering to vote. The Premier has been doing everything he can to destroy everything most of us value. One of the few high points of the last couple of years has been the CUPE education workers militant response to the government’s attempt to wipe out union rights to bargain collectively and to strike. The response from the rest of the labour movement was powerful and forced the government to repeal Bill 28, a first that I can remember. Nevertheless, our democratic rights and the environment are still under attack.

Today the key issue is health care. The Premier has introduced a bill that basically offers to the highest bidder a significant portion of our health care system. But you can still use your OHIP card. Right. And I’ve got a bridge I can sell you. When Mike Harris tried something similar the labour movement and social movements joined together for a massive one-day general strike. It didn’t change anything because Mike Harris was a sociopath who never backed down but now we have Doug Fraud, who will back down the minute he thinks he’s in trouble. So where’s the trouble?

There are well organized groups around health care. We saw during Covid, doctors and nurses standing up for public health measures on social media. Now it’s time to mobilize against for profit health care. The nurses were out on picket lines on February 23 protesting their abysmal treatment. The Ontario Health Coalition has been extraordinary in organizing across the province with chapters in 30 towns and cities around the province. So far, they have focussed on social media and other non-militant tactics. Opposition has been strong enough that Ford has amended his bill claiming that it ensures for profit clinics will not undermine universal health care but that’s BS. As soon as multilateral health care conglomerates find out Ontario health care money is open for business, they will move in as they did with long term care. We cannot allow Doug Fraud to introduce even more private for-profit health care than we already have. Now with union support, it’s time to hit the streets and mobilize all the support for public non-profit health care on the ground. For the first time in my memory, Toronto area NDP MPPs organized a protest, which is an excellent start. I just got a poster from the International Women’s Day Coalition who are hitting the streets again on March 4 with a series of demands including public health care.

And on Saturday, February 25 a broad coalition of groups is organizing a “Welcome” Back Doug Protest Party” saying “This is a protest party for all of us who care about the future of Ontario to rally together.” It’s a great start.

We have a government at Queen’s Park that is prepared to destroy every progressive measure we have fought for over the last 50 years. I am glad to see people are mobilizing to oppose them but we need to build a broad progressive intersectional movement that unites all those under attack. Hopefully, this is a start.

In Toronto, our true blue Mayor John Tory resigned a couple of months after he was elected because the Toronto Star was about to publish a piece exposing a relationship he had with one of his now former staff. Tory did the proper thing and resigned but then he didn’t do it immediately because Premier Doug Fraud at Tory’s request had just succeeded in passing a strong Mayor act that gives the Mayor almost dictatorial powers to run the city, including imposing a budget. If he resigned without passing it, there would be no budget. Tory didn’t resign right away so he could preside over passing the status quo budget that leaves the unhoused on the streets and gives the cops a significant increase.

Tory chose not to impose the budget because the Left went along with passing it, trying for a minor amendment that failed, and because, unlike Ford, he does have a few principles. But he could have and that’s the point. That means he could have imposed the budget with the opposition of two-thirds of Council and then resign leaving everyone else and the new mayor to live with the results. On budget day, there were a couple of hundred people protesting on City Hall Square and a handful disrupting the proceedings from the gallery but there should have been thousands. The undemocratic meeting should have been stopped by an occupation on the floor of Council. People on my social media said the progressive counsellors should have fought to defend the people disrupting the meeting but elected people can only be courageous that way when they have people’s power behind them. Activists should criticize ourselves for not getting out more people.

John Lorinc has written an excellent piece in Spacing Magazine on the need for the Left to seize the opportunity of Tory’s demise to change the downward spiral the city has been experiencing particularly in housing. Similarly left-wing economists have argued very well against privatized health care. Now it is vital to find a candidate for Mayor who is a decent human being and has the courage to stand up for social justice. We need someone with courage who knows the city, can appeal to people outside the downtown core and will stand up to the province, the cops and the developers for social justice as well as refusing to use the strong mayor provision. Then we all need to get behind them.

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