In Doug Ford, anti-poverty activists see another Mike Harris only worse

In the dining hall of the Regent Park Community Food Centre at 40 Oak, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty hosts.


In the dining hall of the Regent Park Community Food Centre at 40 Oak, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty hosts its free speaker series every third Thursday of the month. Last Thursdays topic of conversation: defeating Doug Ford.

Pollsters tell us a PC government could be in charge of provincial affairs with Doug Ford as premier come June 7.

If that happens, attacks on poor and working class people will escalate sharply, warns OCAPs invite to tonights event. But one of the scheduled speakers to talk about those lessons, CUPW president Megan Whitfield, is delayed by traffic.

On the front lines of the Days of Action protests against the Mike Harris Tories in the 90s, Whitfield was an organizer of the Ontario Days of Action, which saw thousands marching in the streets from across all social movements and thousands more trade unionists walking off the job to disrupt government business as usual.

When the Harris Tories ran things in Ontario one of the first things they did was slash social assistance by 21.6 per cent. They then froze welfare programs for the remainder of their time in office. Within days of being elected, Harris cancelled 17,000 co-op and non-profit housing units and funded not a single social housing unit thereafter effectively helping to kick start a “made in Ontario” housing crisis, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report.

Anti-poverty activists are worried the $6 billion dollars in “efficiencies” Ford is promising will lead to a similar intensification of austerity.

We are going to bring in an outside auditing firm to go through each ministry, each program, each agency to find savings, writes Fords campaign manager Melissa Lantsman in an e-mail to NOW. Doug was clear that he will not cut jobs or social programs. What Doug Ford promises the people of Ontario is that we are going to have a responsible path to a balanced budget. It is going to take some time, but we are going to get Ontario going in the right direction immediately.”

Asked how Ford would deal with the social housing crisis if elected, Lantsman writes that there is a “housing affordability” crisis in Ontario and that an Ontario PC government would address housing affordability by increasing housing supply and cutting red tape.

Back at the OCAP event, Leap Manifesto co-founder Avi Lewis is taping an interview with OCAP organizer Yogi Acharya at the back of the hall. Lewis, who sees the provincial election as this moment of Trumpism coming to Canada is taking the pulse of grassroots organizations and asks Acharya for his response to this electoral moment.

Acharya tells Lewis that OCAP has never endorsed any one political party. A lot of that has to do with the fact that no political party really has taken the needs and the welfare of people on social assistance and poor working class people seriously.

Acharya says that the purchasing power of people on social assistance never bounced back from the Mike Harris cuts. Acharya accuses the Liberals of being more concerned about tinkering with the welfare system to save money rather than reforming it to improve the lives of Ontarians on OW and ODSP assistance.

Longtime OCAP organizer John Clarke tells a packed room later that the Harris-Ford comparison has its limits Ford would actually be worse. Ford “is going to unleash a tide of social regression in this province, Clarke says. Ford has pledged to scrap $15 minimum wage legislation and replace it with a tax credit.

If Ford comes to power he will be operating in a context where he has the blessing of global capitalism to carry out the attacks in a way Mike Harris never had, says Clarke, pointing out that The World Bank proposed lowering minimum wages and deregulating labour markets earlier this year.

OCAP called together about 20 organizations in April to strategize how to move key issues forward during the election and beyond. Theres a sign up sheet going around for the first action on June 2 outside Ford’s Etobicoke campaign office. OCAP buses will take poverty activists to North Etobicoke.

Says Clark: We want to put together a clear strategy to actually build a movement in the province of Ontario that… can start to pose a question of the kind of society we want to live in.

Tom Smarda and his partner Judy Keffer came to the OCAP event after hearing Ford on CBC Radio talking about cutting the carbon tax. He wasnt able to explain how he was going to make up the difference [in lost revenue], says Smarda. As if there was magic money, fairy dust that was just going to appear. Smarda and Keffer wrote a song about that they played for the gathering to end the evening.

“The banking system is secure/We don’t need a bail-out cure/P3’s are more efficient/Salaries become deficient/Subsidizing oil is good/But it wrecks our planet’s livelihood/Power and status think they’ll win/Find humanity within.”

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