During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic crisis, Doug Ford tried to rehabilitate his image and that of his government. Replacing the hard right figure – who had attacked broader public sector workers, teachers and education workers, 2S/LGBTiQ folk, and Indigenous, Black and racialized people – was that of a sensitive, responsive premier who seemed truly distressed at the challenges facing working people in Ontario.
The second wave of the pandemic has quickly washed away that illusion, revealing Ford’s true colours as a bosses’ politician who is eager to use the crisis as an instrument for increasing corporate profit and power, at the expense of the working class.
Despite giving lip service to the deadly catastrophe in long-term care (LTC) facilities, Ford has done absolutely nothing to improve the situation. They have not increased funding or staffing, they have not taken steps to ensure adequate production and delivery of protective equipment, and they have not acted to mandate and enforce sufficient standards of care and working conditions. Instead, the Tories have introduced legislation, Bill 218 Supporting Ontario’s Recovery and Municipal Elections Act, which makes it more difficult for LTC residents and their families to hold homes liable for harm resulting from COVID-19. The legislation is retroactive to March, meaning that corporations like Chartwell, who raked in profits while residents and workers at their facilities were infected and died at disproportionately high rates, enjoy the full protection of the state.
Childcare centres across the province are at risk of closing, jeopardizing crucial early development for children and threatening the employment and livelihood for tens of thousands of working parents. This is particularly true for working women, who face a huge setback in their struggle for equality, from the combined health and economic crisis. Ford’s response to this has been to introduce changes to the Child Care and Early Years Act which lower caregiver to child ratios, reduce staffing requirements, and promote unlicensed childcare spaces. These changes accomplish nothing for working parents who need safe care for their children; instead, they put the safety of children and workers at risk, while prioritizing the growth of private and for-profit childcare corporations.
Ford and his government have taken to blaming young people for the spread of the virus, claiming they are irresponsible partiers who are placing self-interest before public health. This is despicable scapegoating which obscures the fact that young people represent the vast majority of frontline service workers, mostly low-waged and often precariously employed, who have little economic option but to go to work, even though it risks their health and the health of their families. At the same time, these workers’ employers, like corporate grocery giants Loblaw and Sobeys, are often enjoying huge sales increases or massive government support, or both. The Ontario Health Coalition has been gathering important data on workplace outbreaks, which are increasing. The government’s rhetoric against young people is a dishonest maneuver which jettisons important public discussions around safety in workplaces, corporate cutbacks and private profit.
Related to Ford’s anti-youth message is his shocking return-to-school plan, which not only allowed but mandated large gatherings of young people without masks. On top of this, the government has continued to impose the unfair, enrolment-based funding program – introduced by the Mike Harris Conservatives and continued under its Liberal successors – which reduces funding for schools with fewer in-person students. Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are using this situation to promote their scheme for online learning, which will result in even further cuts to school funding. The government is deliberately following this perverse strategy to deepen the crisis in public education and facilitate privatization.
Ford and Lecce are also using the pandemic as cover for attacking teachers’ seniority rights, by claiming that Regulation 274 limits hiring. This is an unprincipled attack on teachers, unions and public education, which government will undoubtedly try to extend to the broader public sector.
The economic crisis that was triggered by the pandemic has deeply exacerbated the housing crisis. Homelessness is on the rise and, as crowded shelters become incubators for COVID-19, an increasing number of people have turned to outdoor encampments. Rather than immediately increase funding for safe shelters, legislate a freeze on rents and evictions, or take even the tiniest of steps to guarantee the basic human right to housing, the government passed Bill 184 Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act. This “eviction bill” paves the way for rapid and widespread eviction of tenants who have been unable to pay for housing during the deep economic collapse, enabling Ford’s corporate landlord backers to increase rent prices and secure their profit margins.
These and many other examples show that Doug Ford and the Conservatives are using COVID-19 as a pretext for restructuring Ontario through privatization, deregulation and rollbacks to labour and equality rights.
The Communist Party of Canada (Ontario) insists that this does not have to be the case – a people’s recovery is possible. But it has to be fought for and won, through an escalating campaign of mass action by the working class and its allies. The labour movement must take the lead in building a united movement of trade unions, Indigenous, Black and racialized people, women and gender oppressed folk, students, unemployed workers, tenants and all others who are objectively opposed to the Conservatives and their corporate recovery.
The Communist Party demands emergency action from the province, to:
- Fund public healthcare – for hospitals to open closed wards and beds, for expanded hospital and healthcare staff across the province, for home visits to elderly and isolated people, for restored and expanded public health units and services.
- Put all LTC facilities under public ownership and operation, with funding for adequate and well-paid staff and sufficient protective equipment and procedures.
- Provide housing for all and protect tenants – by building social housing units and funding emergency shelters with sufficient safety measures, by legislating rent rollbacks and rent controls, and by banning evictions, renovictions and foreclosures.
- Introduce a provincial system to provide free, regulated, public childcare to all, with adequate levels of well-trained and well-paid staff.
- Provide needs-based funding to public schools, rollback and eliminate tuition, and eliminate student debt.
- Protect jobs and wages – through plant closure legislation to stop unjustified closures and layoffs, a livable minimum wage of $20 per hour and a ban on predatory private employment agencies, and reinstatement of Regulation 274 to protect seniority for teachers.