Ontario budget acknowledges public services are the great equalizer

“It’s clear that during the pandemic, this government has come to recognize the true value of strong public services. Front-line workers are indeed heroes.” ― Warren (Smokey) Thomas, OPSEU President

Toronto (10 Nov. 2020) ― Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is recognizing the Ford government’s budget for affirming that public sector workers are the key to helping Ontario out of the pandemic, saying it’s a good start down the right path.

Protect, support, recover

“This is the first budget in more than a quarter century that acknowledges public services are the great equalizer, and that doesn’t cast public sector workers as villains,” said Thomas. “It’s clear that during the pandemic, this government has come to recognize the true value of strong public services. Front-line workers are indeed heroes.”

“Just look at the title they chose for the budget. Protect, support, recover – in other words – public services.”

A main feature of the budget is the government’s choice not to focus on deficit reduction. Recent polling by OPSEU/NUPGE, and other groups has shown very few Ontarians believe reducing the deficit should be a priority.

Repeal Bill 124

But Thomas pointed out that there is more – much more – that this and future governments must do to ensure our public services are strong enough to carry the province safely though this pandemic, future pandemics, and the status quo.

“In this budget, the Finance Minister committed to hiring thousands of new public sector workers in long-term care and child care,” said Thomas. “That’s an excellent commitment, but the government will have a tough time recruiting workers into jobs where pay increases are capped by law at below-inflation rates.

“The quickest and easiest thing this government can do right now to support public services is to repeal Bill 124. At the very least, the government should immediately implement a low income cut-off (LICO) to address attraction and retention issues in occupations suffering shortages in the pandemic.”

OPSEU/NUPGE First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida said Bill 124 doesn’t just take away from workers, it takes away from the services all Ontarians depend upon.

“When I’m working on a budget, the last thing I want to do is cut investment in services in order to cover needless lawyers’ fees,” said Almeida. “But that’s exactly what the government is doing with Bill 124. They know we and other unions are challenging it in court. They can avoid all those legal costs if they just repeal now, and invest the savings in front-line care that recognizes the challenges of recruitment and retention.”

Privatization costs more than it saves

Another easy cost saving that didn’t appear in the budget is ending the expensive practice of privatization, Almeida pointed out.

“From hydro to highway construction, we know from the Auditor General that privatization costs Ontario billions more that it needs to spend,” said Almeida. “In next year’s budget, I hope the government will take a firm stand against this failed policy.”

Both Thomas and Almeida praised the government for increasing supports for seniors, women, Black youth, small businesses, and parents. They welcomed a renewed focus on job training and skills development through the community college system, and congratulated government for its commitment to consulting and working with labour.

“We’re here to work together with this government, on behalf of the people of Ontario, and to make Ontario’s public services as strong as possible,” said Thomas. “On the issue of the 3,700 new Personal Support Workers (PSWs) they’ve committed to hiring, for example, we urge them to adopt our plan to support colleges in offering government-supported tuition for appropriate, accelerated PSW training. We need immediate action on this file. Ontarians are counting on us.

“I know it isn’t easy to lead a province through a pandemic, and I congratulate the government for the balanced approach they’re taking,” said Thomas. “While it’s easy to throw stones, we look forward to working with them to ensure the budget’s vision of strong public services is realized.”

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE