Ontario budget throws public services under the infrastructure bus
Modest program improvements clawed back by cuts and privatization
(TORONTO, ON) ─ The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) President Chris Buckley welcomed the thawing of the freeze on hospital funding and improvements to access for college and university students, but warned that these modest program improvements in certain sectors were being paid for by across-the-board cuts to others. Moreover, against public outcry, the Wynne government has held the line on austerity cuts and hydro privatization in order to fund its infrastructure plans.
“The 2016 Ontario Budget throws public services under the infrastructure bus when it should be presenting Ontarians with a road map for growing the economy and reversing the backslide to inequality,” said Buckley. “Piecemeal improvements to student financial assistance, disability support and other positive measures won’t help reduce inequality in Ontario if families are squeezed by precarious work, shrinking public services and increasing user fees.”
In its pre-budget submission, the OFL called on the Wynne Government to abandon its balanced budget fixation in favour of new investments in job creation, restoring public services and making sure that banks and corporations pay their fair share. The OFL cited a report released by the Ontario Common Front in November 2015, demonstrating that, by nearly every measure, Ontario is trailing every other province in income equality and poverty reduction. Among the most alarming findings are:
- Ontario has experienced a 50% increase in the duration of unemployment, making its long-term unemployment the second worst in Canada;
- 7 million people are now earning within $4 of the minimum wage;
- There has been a 38% increase in poverty in Ontario over the past 20 years and nearly one in five Ontario children live in poverty;
- Young Ontario families pay up to $19,000 a year for child care, the highest costs in Canada;
- University tuition fees have outpaced inflation by 601% while per student funding is dead last; and
- Ontario funds all of its social programs at the lowest rate in Canada.
Some of the OFL’s asks are reflected in today’s budget and mark modest improvements that will be a benefit to working people. Among the budget announcements being welcomed by the OFL are:
- A commitment to tackling climate change through the introduction of a “cap and trade” program;
- Concrete measures to make higher education more affordable, in particular through enhanced up-front grants that specifically target low and middle-income students;
- A lifting of the freeze on hospital funding through a new injection of $345 million; and
- A “basic income pilot project,” the details of which will be determined in 2016.
“Wynne has given us one step forward, two steps back. Without increasing social program funding above inflation, this budget will further cement Ontario’s last place status for social program funding, income equality and poverty reduction,” said Buckley. “The shortcomings of today’s budget make it all the more essential for this government to move forward with bold plans to close Ontario’s gender wage gap and reform Ontario’s outdated labour laws so that every worker is lifted out of poverty and fairness becomes the law of the land.”
For further information:
Joel Duff, OFL Communications Director: 416-707-0349 (cell) or email@example.com *ENG/FRENCH*