Tax cuts for the rich. Service cuts and fee hikes for the rest of us. That's how the bosses make workers pay for the capitalist crisis around the world. Ontario, Canada's most populous province, is no exception. And if the governing provincial Liberals, or the official opposition Progressive Conservatives, have their way, the austerity drive against workers and the poor will intensify. But the rulers have reason to fear that their plans may be derailed by a wave of votes for the labour-based New Democratic Party on October 6, similar to the orange surge seen in the May 2 federal election. The task of every class conscious worker is to make that happen, for there is much at stake.
Once the prosperous industrial heartland, Ontario is now a have-not province in terms of transfer payments. Unemployment is above the cross-country official average of 7.2 per cent. Ontario's poverty rate is up 17 per cent since the Dalton McGuinty-led Liberals were re-elected in 2007 on a pledge to reduce it. Nearly 1.7 million Ontarians are living in poverty, including almost 400,000 children, according to StatsCan data. In 1995 the Conservative Mike Harris government cut welfare by 21.6 per cent. Since the Liberals were elected in 2003 they perpetuated the decline in welfare and disability rates, which are now 55 per cent below where they'd be otherwise. McGuinty froze the minimum wage in 2011 and slashed the Special Diet supplement to the ailing poor.
Tuition fees are the second highest in Canada, with annual increases between 4.5 and 8 per cent. University graduates carry a debt load of nearly $25,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.
Ontario's Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan declared a two-year wage freeze on public service workers. He threatens to cut 1900 full-time public service jobs (including water inspectors, and workers who help the disabled live at home) by April 2012. Meanwhile, Premier McGuinty forces Ontarians to pay a permanent health care premium and a Harmonized Sales Tax. The HST costs the average family an additional $792 annually. In August, British Columbia voters rejected and cancelled their HST in a referendum.
Queen's Park starves municipalities and chokes funding to public transit, as it pours billions of dollars into the lethal, wasteful nuclear power industry. Schools are under-funded; recreation centres and libraries face closure; roads and bridges are disintegrating under the ever-growing weight of traffic congestion. And what do the business elite and their hired political hacks say? They say we can't afford any better.
The truth is, we can do better. How? By reversing the corporate tax cuts and putting Ontario back to work. The provincial budget deficit of $14 billion, and the $235 billion accumulated debt is largely the result of Tory corporate tax cuts in the mid-1990s and early 2000s of $18 billion per year. In each of the last two years, the McGuinty Liberals cut corporate taxes more than $2.4 billion.
What effect did that have? It didn't increase fixed capital spending by business. The rich pocketed the savings, while public budgets and public services were squeezed.
What's the difference between the Liberals and the Tories on this front? McGuinty promises to restrain growth below 2 per cent, whereas PC leader Tim Hudack threatens to reduce spending by 2 per cent, while further cutting taxes on the rich. The Green Party would reduce the deficit even faster, without saying how. In any case, one thing is certain: the capitalist parties will declare, after the election, that the situation is much worse than predicted. Their unwavering aim is to make workers pay (both for the manufactured fiscal crisis, and for the endemic capitalist overproduction crisis).
Hudack, a Mike Harris henchman, rubs salt into the social wounds by demanding more prisons, longer sentences, and forced labour for convicts. He courts the anti-choice-on- abortion lunatic fringe, and he pushes for much more privatization and de-regulation. Hudack is a neo-liberal in a hurry. He's the flip side of the big business coin. Heads they win. Tails we lose. Many people are tired of this political farce they call a 'choice', reinforced by a regressive, non-proportional electoral system.
The NDP, led by Andrea Horwath, pledges to stop the corporate tax giveaways, to remove the HST from hydro and home heating, to freeze transit fares, cut emergency room wait times in half, end ambulance fees, cap government CEO salaries, stop burning coal and phase out nuclear in favour of green energy alternatives.
Although these policies fall short of what is needed to meet human needs -- public ownership of the big economy, under workers' control, to realize eco-socialist solutions – a vote for the NDP is a vote for a workers' party. It opens the door for working people, as a class, to have a say in the political direction of society. The striving of the powerless to give voice to their demands, through their own class organizations, is not diminished by the loss of Jack Layton; it is rather reinforced in ways which may resound through the ONDP.
In sum, the real choices are these. The Tories will stab you in the back with a straight face. The Liberals will do it with a smile. The alternative in Ontario on October 6 is an NDP government, which workers should press to implement socialist policies.