The Spirit of Quebec City comes home
In early June, antipoverty activists trashed the constituency office of Ontario Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. They overturned desks, smashed glass and threw a microwave oven out of the building in what they called a “mock eviction.” They were protesting the fact that 2,000 people are evicted from their homes every month in the province of Ontario, Canada's largest province.
Activists from the Ontario Coalition against Poverty called the action an “office eviction.” Welcome to post-Quebec City Ontario. OCAP is planning to bring the fury of the anti-globalization movement home. Here is how OCAP describes their campaign on their web site (www.ocap.ca) First of all, the underlying motivation behind this campaign is a determination to fight to win. All challenges to Harris (Mike Harris, right-wing Premer of Ontario) so far… have been limited by the notion that it is possible to somehow get the Government to listen and change course. We say that such appeals are futile. The Tories (Conservatives) can't be reasoned with or convinced to change their policies by means of moral pressure. To stop them, we must mobilize in a fashion that creates a political crisis and brings the Government to its knees. OCAP, which organized a militant demonstration that turned violent on the steps of the Ontario legislature last June 15, is bringing those confrontational tactics closer to politicians' homes. They are talking about a campaign of economic disruption that would include school and workplace walk outs, blockades and other direct action. And they might have a lot of allies. Over the last month in Ontario, the devastation wrought by the Harris government is becoming clearer and clearer. The poor were Harris's first target. Harris combined massive cuts to social assistance with a campaign of verbal abuse and forced workfare against poor people. Ontario is so militant about its refusal to spend any money on social housing that it is actually refusing money offered by the federal government.
Now seniors are joining the poor on Harris's hit list. A government appointed task force conducted by those radical social activists Price Waterhouse Coopers reported that there's not enough money or staff for home care in Ontario and that waiting lists are excessive. Two weeks before the report was issued, Harris capped funding for home care at last year's level.
Home care is the most humane and caring of our health care services. Last year it was home care workers who helped my father die in dignity at home where he wanted to be and my 90 year old mother cope with his death. Putting him in a home would have been an agony to my parents and an even greater expense to the state.
On Tuesday, Harris told protesting seniors to shut up and be grateful they live in the wonderful province of Ontario. `I would say to seniors in Ontario Thank God you live in Ontario, the best province with the best services anywhere I know of in the world.'' '
Also this week, People for Education revealed that Ontario is developing a two tiered education system Parents in rich neighbourhoods are able to fundraise to replace the cuts to education “Ontario parents raised approximately $33million this year….parents who can afford it can augment what is missing in the system with fundraising for textbooks, classroom supplies and library books, ” say the group. The province can afford massive tax cuts for the rich but no text books for public education. In Canada, the public school system still serves more than 90% of the population. The Harris Conservative seem bound and determined to change that.
Then in hearings on the controversial tax credit proposed for private schools, we found out that the education minister had no research exploring the impact of such a move on public education. Ideology and politics drive this government's agenda, they barely consider the social costs On June 16 youth groups are organizing a free concert against Harris's 60 hour work week. The new labour legislation passed but not yet proclaimed not only increases work time, it also makes it more difficult to qualify for overtime pay and permits employers to schedule 12 days in a row of work without a break. OCAP may find more allies than they think in their campaign to force Harris from office. It's true that he was elected. But he didn't promise to wreck education, home care, labour standards and public education in his election campaign, if memory serves.
The same factors that drove thousands of youths to confront tear gas hurling riot police could very well drive poor people, seniors, aboriginal people, high school students, teachers, and workers in Ontario to make life for the Harris government very difficult indeed.
Like in Quebec City, the state came down quite heavily on OCAP protesters. OCAP leaders John Clarke and Sean Lee-Popham have both been denied bail in their first bail hearing. While charged with nothing more serious than mischief, both have already been in jail for almost one month. Most labour unions came out in solidarity with OCAP, especially once bail was denied. However, Canada's most militant union the Canadian Auto Workers is proposing to withdraw its funding of OCAP over differences concerning tactics. Like in the anti-globalization movement, confrontational or even violent tactics create divisions in the movement.
OCAP would argue the real violence is being perpetrated by the state against poor people. They feel confrontational tactics are the only way to fight back effectively. Bringing the energy and militancy of the anti-globalization movement home is what OCAP is trying to do. If Harris keeps up his arrogant attacks on just about everything people in Ontario hold near and dear, OCAP may very well succeed.