On October 6th, millions of Ontarians will hit the polling booths. In the current economic crisis and wave of austerity, there is a lot at stake in this election for working and poor people in the coming years.

After 16 years of attacks, under both Conservative and Liberal majority governments at Queen’s Park, working and young people in Ontario are worse off than ever. The long list of social program cuts, rising unemployment, and the destruction of well-paying jobs have left this province reeling.

We must use this election to address our pressing needs. This necessarily means challenging the agenda of big business, put forward by the two corporate-backed parties. Breaking that stranglehold means voting for a party of the working class, the New Democratic Party, and ensuring that it stands on a solid socialist program. Furthermore, we must use the elections to build and strengthen a grassroots movement in the workplaces, campuses, and neighbourhoods — one that is capable of carrying out the necessary struggle against austerity and cuts.

The legacy of Dalton McGuinty

To many people in Ontario, after nearly a decade of Mike Harris’ gutting of social services and attacks on labour, the Ontario Liberals were seen as a lesser evil. An anything-but-the-Conservatives vote handed the Liberals a strong majority. Even sections of labour movement, particularly the CAW, the nurses and the teachers’ unions, traitorously threw their support behind the Liberal Party. Expecting a change, what Ontarians got was more of the same.

McGuinty gutted public housing, reduced program spending by $1-billion, and continued the downloading of services onto municipalities with the full understanding that they could never raise the revenue to provide this service. He introduced the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which increased the cost of basic good and necessities, hurting working people.

Under McGuinty, tuition fees have skyrocketed. He scrapped the tuition freeze; the average tuition fee in Ontario has gone from $4,923 to $6,307 between 2003 and 2010 — and it continues to rise.  Healthcare coverage was also slashed, as both eye examinations and physiotherapy were delisted from OHIP (Ontario’s healthcare coverage). He also introduced healthcare premiums, which was a regressive tax charged to every household.

Meanwhile he gave major tax breaks to big corporations. His legacy includes authorizing the G20, where thousands were illegally and brutally arrested by the police forces, under the McGuinty-authorized “secret laws” which gave police unprecedented powers. Never one to apologize, he even denied the basic demand for a public inquiry into the mass arrests.

His track-record for attacking workers rights includes passing legislation forcing TTC workers and York University academic workers to go back to work during their strikes, under the threat of arrest and fines. He announced a wage freeze for public sector workers in 2010, and announced the slashing of public transit.  Earlier this year, he declared the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to be an essential service, taking away Toronto transit workers’ right to strike. Meanwhile, he has ensured that the Liberals’ corporate friends continue to receive government handouts and lower taxes, to the tune of billions of dollars every year.

The legacy of the provincial Conservatives

The ruling Conservatives, from 1995-2002, waged a war on Ontario’s workers and poor. They fired thousands of nurses and slashed healthcare budgets. They engaged in a program of privatizations, including Highway 407.  May were successfully resisted, though, such as preventing the privatization of the LCBO and partially reversing Ontario Hydro’s privatization.

The Tories also slashed welfare rates and engaged in a program of downloading services onto municipalities, which could not afford to run them. One example of the implications of this “downloading” is the current public housing crisis in Toronto. Mike Harris also went to war with the labour movement. He made it harder to unionize workplaces and repealed NDP anti-scab legislation. His government made changes to the provincial Employment Standards Act that brought in Dickensian working conditions for millions of workers. He also attacked the Ontario teachers, and eventually broke their strike through back-to-work legislation.

The history of the last 16 years in Ontario is one of defeats, cuts, and attacks. In practice, the Liberals and Conservatives have proven their allegiance to the Bay Street banks and corporations that finance them.

Bay Street crooks demand austerity

Ontario’s current budget deficit stands at about $16-billion. There is growing pressure from Bay Street to balance that budget through massive cuts to social programs and layoffs. After almost two decades of cuts, a new wave of austerity would cripple a province also reeling from a massive loss in our manufacturing sector (and the good jobs it provided).

Both provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak and Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty have promised to slay the deficit, and have made it the central plank in their election platforms.  Already, the Liberals’ last provincial budget gave Ontario workers a taste of the cuts that are to come.

Following this election, we will see the full-blown war against Ontario workers. The capitalists are mounting pressure on the two parties of big business to balance the budgets, at the cost of our livelihoods and health.  Of course, in balancing such budgets, they ignore the obscene profits and wealth of Bay Street, for which they have been so instrumental in accumulating.

There is an alternative

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is no reason that working people and youth should pay for the deficits we had no hand in creating.

There is a way out of the blind alley of unemployment and low-wage part-time jobs that capitalism has created for Ontario. A real program of investment into creating public housing, schools, daycares, public transit, and recreation centres, as well as expanding basic services, would help to improve the lives of millions of people and create thousands of jobs.

The Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) must stand on a solid socialist program that speaks to the needs of the millions of Ontarians, struggling to make ends meet and facing record unemployment and precarious employment. Though Andrea Horwath, ONDP leader, has focused her campaign on key issues like housing, transit, hydro, and the HST, her actual “solutions” are far from adequate.

Demands such as “freezing transit fares” maintain the status quo of expensive transit fares. At most, the ONDP platform is putting forward a series of moderate, though positive, reforms that only put a small dent into the massive rollbacks and attacks of the last 16 years by the Conservatives and the Liberals.

The Toronto Young New Democrats unanimously voted on a youth election platform that points us in the right direction, with election points including free post-secondary education, universal childcare, expansion of public housing, reversing the downloading of services onto municipalities, and the expansion of public transit and abolishing of transit fares.

These demands are an excellent program that could actually rally and enthuse working class people and youth. Many people are looking for an alternative for the status quo, and are fiercely opposed to austerity. The New Democratic Party must stand up as that alternative.

Andrea Horwath’s wavering

When Andrea Horwath ran for the leadership of the ONDP, she proudly stood up saying, “I won’t check my socialism at the door.” This is precisely the energy we need in the coming election. However, in a recent CP24 interview, Andrea Horwath was challenged on the issue of “socialism” in the NDP, and said that labels were unimportant, effectively distancing herself from socialism. Opportunities like those should be used to popularize and educate people around socialist demands, which undoubtedly resound with millions of people.

More worrying is the fiscally conservative language being used by the ONDP and Andrea Horwath. A poster produced this year by the ONDP of Andrea Horwath carried the line that Horwath could “balance a budget in heels”. This language amounts to adopting the priorities and logic of the capitalist class. That logic, today, would inevitably result in billions of dollars in cuts in order to balance the budget, most of which would come from the programs average people depend upon. This type of buckling to the bosses’ agenda is very dangerous and has no place in the labour movement.  We only need to look back at the effects of Rae Days.

In the coming months, we must use the election campaign to popularize and educate around the need to organize and build a fighting movement against austerity, and one that is directed towards the goal of building socialism. A first step is electing working class candidates to sit at Queen’s Park, replacing the politicians funded by corporate dollars, and also making sure that our candidates stand up firmly for the interests of working class people.

On October 6th; vote working class!

The Ontario New Democratic Party must stand on a socialist program!