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Ontario’s Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod who announced cuts to the province’s welfare program.  (Photo Credit: CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS)During the Ontario provincial election campaign, the 4,000 participants in Ontario’s Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot program were eager to know whether the program would survive if Doug Ford’s Conservatives were elected to form the next government. These individuals had planned their lives with the expectation that they would receive three years of guaranteed income. Some made decisions to return to school or to move into better housing. The statement from Ford’s campaign was reassuring: that the Tories were “looking forward” to seeing the results of the program. Some individuals on UBI voted for Ford with that promise in mind.

On July 31, Ford threw their lives into disarray by cancelling the program outright.

To justify the move, Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said that the program was “broken”—a bold statement considering that no data on the program has been reported as of yet. MacLeod added, “The best social program is a job,” echoing reviled former premier Mike Harris.

The throwback to Harris and his attacks on the poor isn’t just rhetorical. In addition to cancelling the UBI program, Ford is slashing the planned welfare rate increase from three per cent to 1.5 per cent per year. This means that rates will increase at below the rate of inflation in Ontario. MacLeod claimed that the reason why the rate wasn’t cut further was due to “compassion.” This “compassionate” move will impact a range of social assistance delivered through Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, including basic needs for individuals and families, assistance for children with severe disabilities, advanced age allowance, the guide dog benefit, and more. The full extent of the Conservatives’ “compassion” will be demonstrated in November, when a 100-day review of the “broken” welfare system will be completed and a full slate of changes will be announced.   

Vicious attacks on welfare recipients were a mainstay of the Harris years. In his first year in office, Harris cut welfare rates by 21.6 per cent. The poorest and most vulnerable in society were villainized as grifters in public statements, such as when Harris infamously justified cutting a $37-per-month benefit to pregnant mothers by saying that he didn’t want the money “to go to beer”. Welfare recipients were further harassed by the government in the name of stopping “welfare fraud”, placing them under conditions of heavy supervision. Harris’s attacks on welfare combined brutal austerity with an attempt to turn workers against Ontario’s most downtrodden.

History is now repeating itself, although not in the same way. The Ford government has used the language of “compassion” and “dignity” in an attempt to cast social assistance itself as the cause of poverty. “Too many people are being trapped … it holds them down,” MacLeod said. While restraining themselves from slandering the poor, the Ford government is laying the groundwork for further attacks which will once again serve to divide the unemployed and workers by pitting them against each other.

With nearly half of Canadian living paycheque-to-paycheque, it’s clear that poverty is not merely a result of laziness. Moreover, it is not social assistance programs that constitute the broken system which keeps people out of work. The real broken system is capitalism. Ford’s callous decision to cancel the UBI pilot illustrates how any reforms provided by the capitalists can and will be brought to an end if they deem it necessary. But Ontario’s poor aren’t interested in crumbs, not least when they can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Their real hope is for a decent paying job, something which can be easily accomplished given the wealth that exists in society. However, it would be naive to think that the capitalists would provide this without a fight. They would much rather a segment of the population remained unemployed, which acts as a downward pressure on wages and leads to more profits for them. The only way forward is a mass mobilization of workers and the unemployed which demands full employment and decent wages for all, and which has as its end goal the democratic control over industry and the socialist transformation of society. Only then can we end the mistreatment of Ontario’s poor.

Ford’s first broken promise contains within it a new promise: the promise of more bitter struggles in the months ahead. The best way for workers to meet this challenge is to not only fight against Ford’s policies, but against the entire capitalist system that he represents.

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