By Jerry Dias, Unifor National President and Naureen Rizvi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director
The shocking impact of Doug Ford’s surprise budget cuts are reverberating across Ontario. While the middle-class suffers, a band of resistance led by Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, works hard every day to effect change.
Through a series of small acts of resistance and larger-scale actions – everything from town hall meetings to social media calls-to-action, to rallies at Queen’s Park – the voice of the people is being heard, and the government has no choice but to listen.
Times are tough in Ontario’s job market because the government in power puts little value on basic workers’ rights like a fair minimum wage and paid sick days. The Ford government has undone gains for workers made under previous governments. But Unifor is rallying our 168,000 Ontario members, and, as a result of bad Conservative policies, the number of union members, of working people, who are becoming activists swells every day.
There’s a common mission linking organized labour and the broader Ontario community – nurses, doctors, teachers, parents, parents of children with autism, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community – a mission that wasn’t there before Premier Ford came to power because people are seeing that this government has only hurt them.
Resistance has manifested in many actions – online, in person and at townhall meetings provincewide, and we will continue to respond to Premier Ford’s abuse of power.
Among the major battles we are waging for Ontarians is a response to Bill 74, the People’s Health Care Act, 2019. Through this legislation, the province’s publicly funded health-care system is being dismantled behind closed doors. The province dissolved the boards of 20 local public health agencies and proposes to create a central agency called Ontario Health.
The bill shifts decisions about more than $60 billion of Ontario’s public spending and health-care delivery to a small board of unelected, partisan appointees.
The new agency would have recklessly far-reaching powers along with the Minister of Health, including funding, co-ordinating and managing Ontario’s entire health-care system. This includes the power to order closures, transfers and mergers of all health-care providers and of healthcare employees and their work.
To what end? Eating away at our public system opens the doors to companies that are only concerned with turning a profit, not simply providing the best care.
Health care is a big slice of public spending (43 per cent of the Ontario budget) that Ford’s friends in business want to take a bite of. But privatization doesn’t work for health care, and we will not stand by as Premier Ford privatizes our valued system. Public health care is part of our DNA as Canadians, and the Ford government is putting this core value, and all of us, at risk.
These changes are not only destructive; they are deceitful. During the election campaign, Doug Ford didn’t tell Ontarians about these plans, but during his brief time in office, he has revealed his troubling, true nature. If he had campaigned on, “I’m going to lay off nurses,” who would have voted for him? No one!
We have also mobilized our members with campaigns big and small, targeting any and all unfair employers. We must hold companies accountable. We’ve fought for and achieved increased wages and fairness facing one of the province’s largest employers, Loblaws. Together, union members are taking action against Chartwell Retirement Homes through our Pay Fair Chartwell campaign, which aims to inform residents, families and community members of Chartwell’s resistance to paying workers a fair wage.
As union members, we get to fight every day for Ontario’s middle class. Resistance is building, as Ontarians in all walks of life recognize that Premier Ford must be stopped.
Ford didn’t campaign on the disruptions he’s causing. He didn’t campaign on laying off teachers, cutting school programs or firing nurses. This isn’t what he promised, but it’s what he has delivered. And it’s what we now must fight.
Every day, small acts of resistance and larger actions combine to build the kind of revolution that can bring fairness, equity and a strong middle class to Ontario. People across the country are paying attention to the actions we’re taking in Ontario. Every person of working age in Canada has a right to a good job and the benefits of economic progress, and clearly, this cannot be achieved under Premier Doug Ford. Fairness and equity are what we fight for every day.