By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, March 28, 2018
In a pre-election budget delivered yesterday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has promised free child care for children aged 2 1/2 until the age of kindergarten (five years of age). The plan includes funding to build more child care spaces, expand services for infants and toddlers, specific expansion of services in First Nations communities, and improve the wages of child care workers.
The Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care calls the measure, “a historic game-changer for families” in the province. In a March 27 press release, the coalition writes, “Today’s announcement on child care by the Ontario government is transformational for the impact it will have on families, for its substantial financial commitment and for the broad scope of its policy changes. It puts Ontario squarely on the path to a system of universally accessible, high quality child care by addressing the linked issues of affordability for families and decent work and professional pay for early childhood educators through public funding.”
The child care announcement in the budget comes one week after a promise by Wynne’s Liberal Party government to make prescription medications free (no co-payments) for people 65 and older and 24 and younger.
The government promised earlier, in November 2017, that Ontario will become the first of only two Canadian provinces, along with Alberta, to reach a minimum wage of $15 per hour by 2019.
The Wynne government is also musing about introducing a guaranteed income program whose minimum rates would be significantly higher than existing social welfare income rates.
Contrast with NDP government in BC
All this stands in contrast to the sorry record of the New Democratic Party government in British Columbia that was elected in May 2017.
The government recently announced expansion of child care subsidies that would provide some $350 per month per child care space to private operators. Much of the subsidy is assumed and expected to be passed on to parents paying fees. The program requires that child care operators quickly sign onto it. The government has backed off on the rushed date for operators to sign on. Gone is the NDP’s election campaign promise of a $10 per day child care program similar to Quebec’s successful model of $8 per day.
According to the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, the median monthly cost of child care in Vancouver city is the second-highest in Canada, after Toronto, at $1,360 per child. Quebec’s plan costs app. $170 per month for low income earners.
Concerning pharmaceutical drug costs, the government announced last month modest funding to subsidize the cost of drug prescriptions for people earning less than $45,000 per year, making it free for those earning less than $30,000. Gone is the NDP’s longstanding stance, on paper, to make prescription drugs free for all (so called pharmacare).
Following its election last year, the BC government said it was cancelling its election promise to legislate a $15 per hour minimum wage by the year 2021. The government reinstated the election promise following an uproar, though as in Ontario and Alberta, the final step to $15 will be dependent on the NDP’s re-election in 2020.
The BC government budget presented last month contained no raises for starvation-level welfare rates in the province. These sit at $710 per month for a single person, $1,133 for someone disabled. Those rates are comparable to those in Ontario and everywhere else in the country.
What’s going on?
Has the Ontario Liberal Party, closely tied to the governing Liberal Party in Ottawa, changed its stripes? Has it shifted from a party of globalized capitalism and natural resource plunder to a party of social reform? What is the place of a soft-left party such as the NDP if the Liberal Party is seemingly capable of significant social reform?
It’s true that the Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are positioning themselves on the ‘left’, following similar, successful maneuverings by the federal Liberal Party in the October 2015 national election. But they are also testing social experimenting that can dampen social protest but not get in the way of all the profiteering and racketeering of the global capitalist system to which the Liberals are utterly beholden.
Left-wing thinkers and activists in Canada need to examine and answer such questions. Otherwise, the confusion and disorientation which they have visited upon themselves in their failed response (largely consisting of silence) to Canada’s and NATO’s new cold war against Russia, China and Korea will become generalized to social and environmental policies as well.
The Ontario child care plan is not a plan resembling Canada’s public, K-12 education system. It is a program to subsidize privately-owned daycare spaces, albeit with certain regulations governing child care center operations and educator training.
Ontario’s and Canada’s health care system is a patchwork, public/private mix which does not include optical and dental care nor comprehensive pharmaceutical coverage. A 2017 study (and here) ranked Canada eight out of 11 developed capitalist countries, ahead only of France and Canada’s closest ally, the Trump-led U.S.
One measure among many of Canada’s health care failures is the grim news on March 27 that opioid-related overdose deaths continue to rise in Canada. In 2017, an estimated 4,000 people lost their lives to opioid drug poisoning, up sharply from 2016. Like its U.S. ally, Canada wages a failed ‘war on drugs’ that sacrifices the lives of thousands each year on the altar of capitalist law and order.
Concerning the minimum wage, the $15 rate for both Ontario and Alberta are election promises which will likely not be met should the more right-wing opposition party in each province win the Ontario election to take place in May 2018 and the Alberta election to take place in May 2019. Elsewhere in the country, including in British Columbia where the NDP has governed for the past ten months, minimum wages are risibly low. By comparison, Australia and New Zealand already have significantly higher minimum wages. As of April 1, 2018, New Zealand will be at $16.50. That will rise to $20 by 2021. Australia’s rate (like New Zealand, a national rate) is even higher. With inflation indexing factored in, Ontario’s promised rate will sit below $16 by 2021.
Ontario’s musings of a guaranteed income plan is a poisoned pill. Many studies have pointed to guaranteed income plans as designed to undermine the principle of wages as living income. Specifically, they are designed to weaken trade unions, including the traditional role of unions (greatly reduced already in this era of globalized capitalism) of fighting for working class governments that legislate on behalf of all of society, not just for the minority of wealthy capitalists and their hangers-on. Here are two articles by Canadian authors examining guaranteed income schemes:
- Conditional support to the idea, in Union Research website (Canada), March 2016
- Beware of basic income, by Michal Rozworski, Rank and File.ca, April 22, 2016
And see a new article by Chris Hedges: The Western oligarchs’ ‘guaranteed basic income’ scam, published in Truthdig, April 1, 2018.
If Liberal governments in Ontario or other provinces prove susceptible to popular pressure to improve social programs, so much the better. But this does not detract from the basic truth that the Conservative and Liberal parties in Canada are twin parties of war, militarism and environmental destruction. The need for a genuine party or parties of the left in Canada to lead a societal transformation to a rational, planned economy (socialism) is more acute than ever.
 An article in the April 2018 issue of Harper’s Magazine (‘The pain refugees‘, subscriber only) reminds us that the victims of the ‘war on drugs’ are not only those addicted to opioids. They also include those who suffer from chronic pain, who are denied access to pain medication due to all the stigma and cruel policing associated with its use.