Op-ed: Mike Harris’s Order of Ontario is a disgrace

Harris’s harmful legacy is not limited to his attacks on the poor – his tenure racialized politics and brought dishonour to the office of the premier


Mike Harris is the reason I’m in politics.

When my kids were in elementary school, I joined a parents group to fight Mike Harris’s cuts to education.

Back then, the goal was to “create a crisis” with the ultimate aim of privatizing Ontario’s education system.

He doubled most college and university tuition fees and deregulated professional fees. That made Ontario’s students the most indebted in the country, and priced low- and middle-income students out of law, medicine and other professional programs.

Now the Doug Ford government wants to bestow the Order of Ontario – “the province’s highest honour” – on Harris. There are many reasons Harris should not receive the award.

Harris’s harmful legacy is not limited to his attacks on education. His tenure brought disgrace to the office of the premier.

Soon after he took office he gave instructions that he wanted “the fucking Indians out of the park” hours before Ontario Provincial Police moved in and shot Dudley George during an occupation of Ipperwash Provincial Park. At the public inquiry that followed years later, he lied repeatedly about his role in the affair.

His “Common Sense Revolution” racialized politics and unleashed a wave of human suffering.

He cut welfare rates by 22 per cent to $520 a month. His minister at the time, David Tsubouchi, argued that people could live on it by adopting a “welfare diet” consisting in large part of pasta with no sauce, butter or salt.

He stopped building affordable housing and downloaded responsibility to municipalities – planting the seeds of a housing crisis that led to a tent city epidemic in Ontario that continues to this day.

Harris sold Highway 407 for $3.1 billion (now worth $30 billion) and committed Ontarians to paying tolls for 100 years.

He broke up and started selling off pieces of Ontario Hydro, making rates unaffordable for many, and turning electricity costs from a competitive advantage to a liability for Ontario businesses.

At a cost of $40 million, he filled in the Eglinton subway tunnel, the start of other Conservative transit cancellations and gridlock that now costs the Toronto region $6 billion a year.

The damage brought on by his “revolution” continued after he left office.

As chair of the Board of Directors of Chartwell Homes, an “open-ended real estate trust” with supportive living and long-term care homes in four provinces, he’s dedicated himself to converting long-tem care into a private, for-profit industry. At Chartwell, Harris makes an annual salary of $230,000 and owns $7 million in Chartwell holdings.

While Harris and corporations profit, seniors and the personal support workers who care for them suffer. A 2014 Ministry of Health report described how a resident senior in a Chartwell home died in agony with bedsores so deep that “they exposed her shinbone through blackened flesh.”

During the pandemic, the Canadian Armed Forces have reported on the horrific conditions in for-profit homes, where residents are more than twice as likely to contract and die from COVID-19 than those in municipally run facilities. As of January 4, 2,843 seniors and eight staff in long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19.

In 2018, 200 families – including Francis Yorke, who reported that her mother was in diapers, constantly wet and that she had found a cockroach in her mother’s bed – launched a lawsuit against LTC home chains.

Instead of hiring more PSWs and reinstating minimum standards of care, the response of the Ford government has been to protect profiteers by passing Bill 218, which makes it significantly harder for families to sue homes for negligence.

That Ford wants to reward Harris is a slap in the face to the memory of the seniors and others who have suffered and died from a legacy established by Harris while he was premier – and that he has profited from ever since.

Chris Glover is NDP MPP for Spadina-Fort York.

@nowtoronto

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9 responses to “Op-ed: Mike Harris’s Order of Ontario is a disgrace”

  1. Firstly, I agree with you on all counts.
    Sitting in office should require more accountability.
    Education is the backbone of a successful country. The road, like a river, facilitates the economy. Harris should never have sold 407 to another country then make the Ontarians pay tolls to drive it.
    The racial slight and prejudice came from someone not caring about the Indigenous people’s important role in the shaping of Canada.
    Ford’s pursuit in developing the Oak Ridges Moraine is nothing more than profiteering.
    Many people new to Ontario are not even aware that it will contaminate our water table indefinitely. I’m sure safe water is more important than a few oversized mansions for a small segment of society.
    We shouldn’t have to feel regret for electing and putting our trust in good leadership. To award a past leader for his regretful decision making seems to be setting the path for what’s to come down the road…or should I say another kind of 407?

  2. NDP = No Debt Paydown; per the NDP there is no problem that cannot be solved by parachuting money from the sky until the jurisdiction completely collapses. “Reality” without financial constraints is all that is required to support the NDP false economic dys-Utopia. How do people that lacking in knowledge of finance and basic economics ever get elected?

  3. Over 90% of the population in Ontario is not rich. Yet, they put the Conservatives, the party of the rich into power; quit masochistic, self-destructive and not smart at all. Teaching the over-complacent Libs a lessons has predictably backfired badly, when the “Have-Not People” voted for their own factual enemies, the party of the rich, who doesn’t give a rats’ tail for the average people during their full term; voters’ brains on leave in Ontario by voting for their own enemies. Learn to vote for the better of your majorities’ interests, your own people’s representatives. There are supposedly not only hicks in Ontario, who don’t even understand that “Conservatives” only stands for the party “Only for the Rich”!

  4. We the people MUST not allow Harris to be garnered with the Order of Ontario. He is repugnant and I can’t stand the sight of this blight to humanity. I’d like to feed him and his crony shit for brain Tsubouchi cockroach’s with rancid Tuna while strapping them both to a rusty iron bed in a run down depressing Chartwell hell hole.

  5. Harris, Eves, Leach, Snobelen, Hudak, Fords, Taverner, Mulroney, Elliott, …. the neocon rot keeps on rotting.

  6. I remember. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one. It was reassuring to see this list of Harris’s mean-spirited actions published.
    Does Doug Ford really think that such actions (and similar ones he has taken) deserve reward?
    As I recall, another of such Ontario men moved to Alberta. They seem to like him–they made him premier. I wonder if they would like a couple more.

  7. Mike Harris cut school funding so much, all our class trips were canceled for years and we had to start bringing our own paper and writing utensils to school. We had to share textbooks that were 10-20+ years out of date with graffiti from decades ago on it with missing pages. If libs and cons can figure out money in the budget to give billionaire companies like Loblaws a $25 million govt subsidy grant and Ford motor company free land to operate their company on, and countless other socialism for the rich and corporate, aka capitalism, then we can find the money to fund UBI, rent relief, and full universal health and mental health care, especially during these pandemic times when human lives should matter more than arbitrary pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. If u srsly value paper and billionaires/millionaires more than everyday people who need help, you have some soul searching to do. In a health pandemic, everyone counts, everyone should be helped so that they have access to basics like housing, food, healthcare, mental healthcare, so we can all be stronger and overcome the pandemic! The NDP is willing to do the work it will take to help Canadians. Or option 2 is just keep doing the same mistakes that got everyone here and watch Rome/Babylon/Sumeria/the French Monarchy/racist patriarchal colonial late stage capitalism crumble like all corrupt, inequal societies eventually do… let’s try fixing things and trying something new

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