When Bob Rae’s NDP governed, Ontario was suffering its worse economic crisis since the Great Depression. The NDP response was to bolster the social safety net and implement innovative changes, such as the “social contract,” which spared many Ontarians hardship and massive layoffs but garnered only lukewarm support.
In 1995, lukewarm NDP supporters, thinking to better their condition, changed allegiance to support an anti-government platform. Whereon, Mike Harris, from the back-benches of Bill Davis’ Conservative government, rose to be premier of the province.
After defeating the NDP because of opportunity and good fortune only, rather than merit as either a politician or leader, Harris moved quickly to lay his foundation of power—though with much risk to the building.
Imitating far right Republicans, he proceeded dangerously forward with American-style economics by callously reducing the numbers of people dependent on welfare, firing 10,000 nurses, reducing Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of Environment staff by more than 40 percent each, downloading services and programs to municipalities (e.g. ambulance services and highway maintenance), freezing minimum wage for four years, removing rent controls, hiking tuition fees, reforming the system of property tax, amalgamating municipalities, and more.
And, through continued good fortune, not of Tory making (i.e., the low Canadian dollar and improved U.S. economy), the Ontario economy strengthened and unemployment reached its lowest in nine years.
To generate the appearance that neo-conservative policy was wholly responsible, and the economy was really booming, the current government delivered a 20 percent tax cut accompanied by the slogan “tax cuts create jobs.”
But the whole of income tax revenues from the newly-employed, $10 billion borrowed from foreign markets, money from the sale of capital assets (e.g., Highway 407), and more, were spent in giving it so that the gains made have become a loss; since in shifting billions of dollars from hospitals, schools, colleges, universities, pollution prevention, and communities, the whole province has suffered hardship, which every Ontarian has felt.
Thus, the majority of Ontarians that supported Mike Harris in 1995, thinking to reap great benefits, deceived themselves and found afterwards by experience that they were worse off than before—the provincial debt increased by $24 billion.
If the Tories are re-elected, degradation of health care, education, and the natural environment will be suffered to grow for another four years in order to provide even more income tax cuts for the wealthy. The damage this could cause to the superstructure we call Ontario could exceed our ability to remedy the ills for a long time thereafter.
Nor should we elect a Liberal government since they, too, support the Mike Harris authored economic system, which is both unbalanced and unfair, and is making promises worth billions with no plan of how to pay for them.
Only the NDP offers a well-costed election platform that will bolster and protect health care and education by rolling back income tax cuts for the wealthy and redeploying the money gains.
Moreover, Howard Hampton’s NDP is the only party that makes mention of the environment, promising to get tough on polluters by hiring 500 new inspectors.
Gord Earle (B.Ed, Honours,
B.Sc.; Fish and Wildlife