The Ford government’s latest budget for Ontario aims to place the full burden for the health and economic crisis squarely on the shoulders of Ontario’s working class.
The Ford government’s callous disregard of COVID-19 modelling has placed Ontario solidly into the third wave of the pandemic. Working people are facing record unemployment, a wave of mass evictions and rapidly deepening debt and poverty. A year ago, we repeatedly heard the phrase “we’re all in this together”. That claim has been exposed as a lie. Front line workers continue to be get sick, women are disproportionately thrown out of the workforce and racialized inequalities are further revealed in the workforce, housing and access to healthcare. Meanwhile, as this budget demonstrates, the government is busy removing the meager supports put in place last year in order to stop the health and education systems, shot through from decades of neoliberal cuts and privatization, from collapsing entirely. On the other hand, the Conservative government is generously handing out tax cuts, subsidies and bailouts for business.
The budget dismantles healthcare funding increases made last year. The pandemic revealed that Ontario’s healthcare and long-term care systems had been decimated by successive provincial and federal governments which cut funding, privatized and failed to enforce the Canada Health Act. Just before the pandemic began in 2020, there were 1.4 acute-care hospital beds per thousand people in Ontario, with the Canadian average being two per thousand and Germany averaging six per thousand. The pre-pandemic wait time for a hospital bed was 18.3 hours, up sharply from 14.4 hours when the Conservatives were elected in 2018.
During the pandemic, as it became clear that underfunding was leading directly to mass death, the Ford government made concessions and improved funding. Now they are reversing course, removing funding and privatizing new areas of healthcare as quickly as possible. The budget will remove $3.25 billion in “COVID” health care funding this year alone. The funding announced in the budget to tackle the growing surgical backlog falls at least $400 million short.
The budget highlights the Ford government’s capture by the for-profit long-term care (LTC) sector. Almost 4,000 Ontario residents of LTC homes have died in the last year after contracting COVID-19. In January, the Premier’s Science Table announced that for-profit LTC homes had 78% more deaths than non-profit homes. Still the province is dragging its feet on regulating the sector. The minimum standard of four hours of care per resident, agreed to by the province late last year, will not be enacted for at least four more years, meaning many in LTC homes will not live to see a significant improvement. The first 15 minute increase in care is not scheduled until next year. The budget directs $2.3 billion towards LTC over the next four years, the majority of which was previously announced, and will, in large part, go towards creating 30,000 new beds in LTC over the next seven years. Much of that money will be directed to the for-profit sector. Provincial funds will help private corporations pay out millions in dividends to wealthy shareholders. The budget does not tie funding to inspections of LTC homes, nor does it commit to any wage increases for LTC workers after June of this year. Now is the time to put all long-term care facilities under public ownership and operation, with funding for adequate, well-paid and full-time staff and sufficient protective equipment and procedures.
Pandemic funding, inadequate as it was, is also being removed from public education. As this week’s numbers of COVID-19 cases in schools reach new records, $790 million will be cut from education. There is no budgetary commitment to reduce class sizes or ensure better ventilation in schools. The government has committed to fund education at a level that is not projected to keep up with inflation and enrollment growth, meaning real and significant long-term cuts to our children’s education.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives revealed its study this week showing that pandemic education spending, the majority of which came from school boards and the federal government, only resulted in the hiring of an additional 1.5 staff per school in the last school year. The government also announced that it will be making sure that online education continues to expand post-pandemic, in order to meet the Tory goals of reducing the quality of education, cutting funding and teachers and creating new incursions of privatization for private online education providers.
The Communist Party calls for immediate measures to lower class sizes and hire enough teachers in order to allow for physical distancing as well as ensuring a quality learning environment. Furthermore, the province must implement needs-based funding to provide adequate and guaranteed funding, from provincial general revenues, to public schools and education programs.
The budget pretends to address the incredible setbacks to gender equality that the economic crisis has caused. Women’s participation in the workforce has reached the lowest point in decades, mostly due to capitalism’s systemic gender wage gap colliding with the long term crisis in Ontario’s childcare sector. The budget offers another round of Ontario’s “COVID-19 Child Benefit” with one-time cheques to parents for of $400, or $500 for children with special needs. Ontario’s means-tested child care tax credit will be increased by 20% for this year. However, in the midst of the worst childcare crisis we have seen with a net loss of 58 childcare centres already this year, there is no new funding for the sector. In fact, there will be cuts, with $49 million less going into the system after changes to municipal cost sharing. Temporary benefits and tax credits will be immediately eaten up by runaway childcare fees. They do nothing to address the accessibility of childcare spaces. What is necessary, now more than ever, is a provincial childcare system to provide free, regulated, quality, public childcare to all, with adequate levels of well-trained and well-paid staff.
Ford’s budget ensures that thousands more people across Ontario will have nowhere to live, while landlords, developers, and speculators continue to enrich themselves at the expense of working people. The pandemic has already led to massive encampments of homeless Ontarians popping up across cities. With eviction enforcement moratoriums now lifted across Ontario, the Landlord and Tenant Board is continuing with its mass eviction campaign under Ford’s Bill 184 which restricts tenant rights. In Ontario, more than one in ten tenants are in arrears on their rent, with another probable lockdown around the corner that will lead to more layoffs. The government’s approach to housing only ensures that the dangerous real estate bubble continues to create substantial wealth for a handful, while ensuring a disaster for many in the long term. Despite this reality, there is nothing in the budget to alleviate the housing crisis. The Communist Party continues to fight for massive social housing construction, adequate funding for emergency shelters, legislating rent rollbacks and rent controls, and banning evictions, renovictions and foreclosures.
Ford’s budget is conversely very generous when it comes to business. The “K shaped” nature of the economic “recovery” has been widely reported. This means that Ontario’s biggest corporate monopolies and wealthiest individuals are successfully profiteering during this crisis. However, there will be no tax increases for those that can afford to pay. All the revenue losses from tax cuts and subsidies to corporations that have been implemented during successive provincial Liberal and Conservative budgets will remain. They Ford government’s cuts have already led to the loss of $6.6 billion. The “Small Business Support Grant”, available to businesses with under 100 employees effected by lockdowns, hardly what most would define as “small”, will receive a second round of $10,000 to $20,000 each. $2.8 billion will go to telecommunications infrastructure in the name of increasing broadband access, which will serve Rogers and Bell who refuse to invest in adequate coverage in rural areas.
A People’s Recovery for Ontario must place the tax burden on those with the ability to pay. The Communist Party demands progressive tax reform that would increase taxes for corporations and the very rich. This would necessarily include doubling the corporate tax rate, restoring the corporate capital tax, expanding capital gains taxes to apply to all of the gain, introducing wealth and inheritance taxes on estates over $1 million, eliminating income tax for those making under $40,000 a year and scrapping regressive sales taxes. We must ensure that any bailouts to business are accompanied by public ownership and democratic control.
Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of this budget is the fact it does not say anything about paid sick days. Workers have to continue to go to work under the looming threat of catching COVID-19 and as a result losing the income necessary for rent and groceries. There has been a massive movement for paid sick days in Ontario for several months which includes doctors and public health officials who the Ford government claims they are listening too. Even this straightforward demand that may cost businesses a tiny amount in the short term while potentially avoiding more lockdowns and a longer pandemic is being refused. The Communist Party continues to the demand for the amendment of the Employment Standards Act to require a minimum of 14 days of employer-paid sick leave a year.
It is clear that Ford’s short-sighted and profit-mad policies are designed in the interests of the capitalist class. This is the reason why the Ontario government seems intent on delaying decisive public health action, despite the fact they should have learned better from the first and second wave of the pandemic. It has never been clearer that we cannot wait a year to potentially vote Doug Ford out of office. Mass and escalating action is required now to defeat this government and to win a People’s Recovery for Ontario.