This week we were all witness to real victories in the fight against an Ontario government budget that, in its initial form, would have done significant damage to our province, our government and the public services our communities rely on every day.
Success in the budget battle came thanks to thousands of concerned Ontarians, CUPE members included, who emailed their MPPs, held rallies and town halls and found so many creative ways to pressure the governing Liberals to change the budget bill.
Thanks to all of them, to you and a special thanks to Andrea Horwath and 16 very determined NDP MPPs, working together we won several major changes to Bill 55.
What did we win?
1. All the schedules in the budget legislation, Bill 55, relating to interest arbitration that would have hurt workers in hospitals, long term care, emergency services, the TTC as well as firefighters and police officers were removed entirely.
2. Schedule 16, which the Ontario Ombudsman said would seriously erode government accountability, was changed to make decision subject to scrutiny by the Auditor General.
3. Schedule 28, which we've been calling the "privatize everything act" was subject to dozens of amendments. It is now restricted to Service Ontario and the government is loudly on the record promising a vote in the legislature before any other privatizations could happen. CUPE Ontario made a special contribution to this fight by widely publicising an authoritative legal opinion which clarified how damaging Schedule 28 would be by allowing decisions, behind closed doors, to sell off any crown corporation or public asset or privatize any service without ever coming before the Legislature for debate or for a vote.
4. A freeze on corporate tax rates. In recent years the Liberals cut billions in revenues from corporate taxes. This month we finally made them stop their mad race to the bottom.
5. A new tax on the wealthiest people in Ontario, those earning more than $500,000 annually. This is a very important step toward tax fairness.
There are still many problems with the budget bill, not least of which is that it still lets the Liberals sign away Service Ontario (and our private information) to corporations. Also, the Liberals twisted the intent of the new tax revenue and are applying it to the deficit, not to bolstering public services, which is what the public said they wanted in poll after poll.
How did CUPE members contribute to this victory?
We did it by working together.
From delivering old shoes to Dwight Duncan to the big April 21 rally at Queen's Park, the CUPE rally at our Convention in Windsor and "Crate of Ornges" rallies in Thunder Bay, North Bay, Kitchener, St. Catharines, Kingston and Windsor, you took the message to the streets.
Online, you sent thousands of emails to MPPs. Many of you wrote letters to your editors. Some of you sat down for face-to-face lobby sessions with your MPPs.
It was dozens and dozens of individual actions that, combined, forced the Liberals to do an about-face on some terrible legislation, and which helped the NDP take such a strong a stand in the final weeks of the budget debate.
But the fight is far from over. We still have billions of dollars in public service cuts to get restored and we must defend against attacks on pensions and our very rights to bargain collectively without interference. If we are to win, it will once again be up to each and every one of you.
What did we learn?
We learned that democracy works best when we all work together. That's when we really can make a difference!