The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) calls for immediate and far-reaching action from the Government of Ontario to protect working people from the COVID-19 pandemic and the developing capitalist economic crisis.
The pandemic threatens everyone’s health, with the most vulnerable being the elderly and the immunocompromised. But it also has a major impact on the working class, who are more often forced to make decisions out of necessity that put them in harm’s way. This is especially true of the most marginalized members of the working class: Indigenous peoples, immigrant and racialized communities, women and the 2S/LGBT community.
The province of Ontario will likely be one of the provinces hit the hardest by the pandemic. Ontario has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. Ontario is also the province that has been leading the corporate austerity agenda for several years with the lowest per capita spending on social programs. Ontario is last when it comes to per capita expenditures on hospitals.
Almost three decades of the corporate austerity agenda has decimated healthcare in the province and opened up the sector to privatization. Ontario has 1.4 acute care hospital beds per thousand inhabitants with Canada averaging 2 per thousand. This can be compared to Germany’s 6 hospital beds per thousand.
The crisis in healthcare did not start with the coronavirus. The Ford government’s massive cuts in the 2019 budget included health. The current 18.3-hour hospital wait time is up sharply from 14.4 hours when the Conservatives were elected. This is a 27% increase in just 18 months. In many communities the situation is critical. In Brampton, the government just voted against funding a second hospital, while the current hospital was operating at more than 100% capacity throughout the first half of 2019. Thousands of patients have been stuck in hallways for more than 72 hours waiting for a bed. In early 2020, the city council of Brampton declared a health care emergency. Brampton is not alone, 40 other hospitals in the province averaged 100 per cent capacity during the same period in 2019.
Neoliberal attacks on public healthcare in Ontario have put the province in a situation where many were suffering and dying needlessly long before March 2020. These deaths are now set to rise dramatically, caused by the pandemic as well as the Ford government. What drives this situation are the wishes of Bay Street and US health corporations to underfund and privatize medicare in order to amass profit from people’s health. We call for the immediate restoration and expansion of health and hospital funding.
The systemic failures we are witnessing in our province and in other capitalist countries contrast with the efforts of China and Cuba who have responded effectively to contain the virus. They are in the lead in sending doctors, medical teams and supplies to Europe. China is making its experience in fighting the virus available to all and Cuba is offering anti-viral drugs it has developed to the world, which have already been used in China. Socialism has shown its ability to mobilize resources towards a common goal much more effectively than a system built to support private monopolies designed for profit.
The growing economic crisis will also bring disaster for working people without immediate relief and efforts to implement a program to recover jobs, wages and living standards. The ultimate cause of the current economic crisis is the capitalist system. Since 2008, global capitalism has never fully recovered; it has only addressed the demand to restore corporate profits. Despite record low interest rates, debt expansion and military spending, quantitative easing and massive corporate and wealth tax cuts, growth has stagnated. Most workers who lost their jobs in 2008 are now working lower-paid, more precarious and non-union jobs. Real estate and rent have skyrocketed as wages have stagnated. The capitalist system was chronically ill. The coronavirus has simply sped things along. The same prescription that was given to the financial system after 2008 will not make it healthy, it will only further consolidate capital and personal wealth and push down living standards for the vast majority.
The provincial government’s waffling and inadequate measures have cost time and may cost lives in the fight against COVID-19. Last week the government said that leave from work to self-quarantine required a doctor’s note. This week that has been reversed and the government has said they will bring in emergency legislation to ensure that no one loses their job due to self-isolation. Still, many will be forced to work in unsafe workplaces, either because of employers’ pressure or because of financial necessity.
Ontario workers have no mandatory minimum sick leave, which was stripped from them a year ago by the Ford government. If they are to self-isolate without pay from their work, then only half qualify for Employment Insurance (EI). Those that qualify for EI will only earn 55% of their salary, which means most will not be able to pay the rent. The Federal government has started an Emergency Care Benefit that they say will deliver $450 a week to those that do not qualify for EI. With the average rent in Toronto now at $2,300 a month for a one bedroom, that means that 125% of the benefit would go only towards rent. These measures are totally inadequate.
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) demands the following actions be immediately implemented:
- Immediate funding for hospitals to open closed wards and beds, including capital funding for new hospitals and equipment where needed
- Eliminate the requirement to produce health insurance cards; provide healthcare and treatment to all who need it
- Immediate funding to expand hospital and healthcare staff across the country based on need, with attention to Northern and Indigenous communities, many of which have boil water advisories while almost none have hospitals or adequate healthcare facilities and staff to meet the crisis
- Immediate funding and oversight of long-term care homes, where the elderly and infirm are in greatest danger, where staff-patient ratios are very high, and staff are contract workers in several homes simultaneously
- Immediate funding of public health services, including expanded testing for the COVID-19 virus, and restoration of public health units
- Guarantee all workers 21 paid sick days
- Enforce COVID-19 health advisories in workplaces, with penalties for employers who violate the advisories; set-up hotlines to report employer violations
- Make EI non-contributory, and universal and immediately accessible to all workers including part-time and precarious workers and first-time job seekers, for the duration of unemployment at 90% of previous wages or 90% of an annual livable income
- Introduce a guaranteed annual livable income now
- Extend Ontario’s temporary ban on evictions and ban foreclosures
- Defer rent payments, rollback rent and implement rent control legislation to cover all rental units
- House the homeless with emergency, interim, and permanent social housing
- Provide emergency housing on reserves, and in Northern and isolated communities
- Defer personal debt, including mortgages and loans
- Eliminate student debt and cancel credit card debt
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) fights for the same demands as the Communist Party of Canada. For the Communist Party of Canada’s statement and full policies to stop COVID-19 and the recession please visit: http://communist-party.ca/emergency-action-required-now-to-stop-covid-19-and-deep-recession/
Provincial Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada (Ontario)