I find myself feeling betrayed, upset and let down with the release of the Drummond Report. To say I lost sleep from it would not be an understatement. This report and its suggestions, elicited from the appointment of Mr. Drummond to commission this report, is an attack on the average worker, child, woman and senior citizen. Whether there is a plan already in place to institute some or all of these suggestions is of serious concern to all Ontarians.
As a feminist political economist and PhD student at York University, I spend the majority of my days (and many nights) examining the harmful impacts these and similar themed "rational measures" have on the average Canadian. I could compile a proposal ten times the length of Mr. Drummond’s report which highlights the increasing social perils Ontarians face by this form of ‘economic rationality’ (which is truly only rational for a very small proportion of the elite). David Harvey's theory of Accumulation by Dispossession is relevant across all geographic-spatial boundaries and is clearly at play in this report. The average Ontarian will be dispossessed of much of what they have earned through democratically achieved efforts should these suggestions take effect. I implore you to seek other avenues (one example listed at the end of this letter) to avoid harming the overwhelming majority of this provinces citizenship.
Below I have listed some of the serious and grave consequences to be had with economic rationality:
1. Cutting full day kindergarten harms families and puts children in jeopardy. We live in an era where people are working longer and for less, thereby obliging all parents to work (the male breadwinner wage days where one parent worked and one stayed at home is no longer feasible with downward wage adjustments). This measure will amount to targeted discrimination against those most precariously employed Ontarian parents and will force more Ontarians to require social assistance and/or force one parent to take a more ‘flexible’ job. This really amounts to compelling, often the female parent (who to this day takes on the brunt of child giving responsibilities) into taking a contract, casual and often part-time job, thus adding to the feminized global, let alone Canadian Precariat. The same premise extends to dispel any efficacy for the stagnation of the child benefit which is so desperately needed by virtue of the jobs created in Ontario since the 2008 Great Recession (predominantly part-time, contract, casual and shift work labour arrangements). This is documented by Canadian Labour Force Survey (LFS) statistics which have revealed this overwhelming shift to ‘non-standard’, precarious labour arrangements in Canada within the past 25 years.
2. Charging youth to ride the school bus is a direct attack on poor and/or disabled youth who require these services the most. This amounts to systematic discrimination at the provincial level. Moreover, opening up the already problematic privatized school bus industry to further “competitive bidding” is putting at risk our children since study after study shows that the efficiency of for-profit and/or privatized social services is markedly inferior to that provided by the tightly regulated, public, not-for-profit industry. Frankly, I would suggest going back to providing these services in house.
3. As a woman, I am personally offended with the move to more “home-based” care. This tactic at responsibility shifting seeks to push care out of the system onto unpaid female caregivers. The statistics reveal that women are not only the majority of caregivers but the majority of care recipients (in both the unpaid and paid sphere). This is therefore an attack both on women at large but women in healthcare who will see their jobs cut in order to push those duties into the unpaid realm. Is it not enough that people are sick, must we force them and their families to take on the brunt of “home-care”? Since women are still the majority of healthcare recipients as well as health caregivers, this amounts to systematic gender discrimination.
4. Healthcare reform in the form of increasing privatization is disastrous. In the 1984 Canada Health Act, a comprehensive national strategy to provide universal hospital and medical services was created by adhering to five core principles: that all core medical services must be universal, portable, accessible, comprehensive, and publicly administered. Incidentally, guaranteeing these principles has resulted in gains on all fronts since it has proved both cheaper for the taxpayer, the employer and promotes quality through a one-tier system that is money, gender and race-blind. The simple fact of sharing facilities and services has most importantly served to maintain and improve hospital and medical services since the entire population has a vested interest in maintaining it and the result has been the overwhelming 96% preference by Canadians of our system over the American for-profit system. Unanimity to this degree, on any issue, is virtually non-existent in the statistical realm and especially impressive in a vastly diverse populace with varying cultural, political, and religious preferences. To attempt to co-opt American-inspired privatization strategies is simply undemocratic and not in the interests of the Canadian, let alone Ontarian, population.
5. Specifically, Mr. Drummond’s call for a shift to more personal support workers (PSW’s) reveals the hidden exploitive nature of this suggestion. Is it coincidental that PSW’s are the lowest paid, most precarious of the healthcare workers and happen to be overrepresented with by visible minorities and women? Why not increase doctors or registered nurse practitioners? Perhaps, is this because they are accredited where PSW’s have thus far been rejected in their desires to be accounted for in the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA). Instead, the stealth tactic of shifting work away from nurses and doctors onto PSW’s (who do not receive the same accreditation and are thus more susceptible to exploitation by private firms) is profit, not people-oriented. Firms which have been documented as forcing these PSW’s (who are often immigrant women) to work horrible, unregulated hours for minimal compensation will be on the rise. This is not about efficiency, this is about profits for the wealthiest private business owners who are trying to force their way into what they deem an un-tapped cash cow.
6. Shifting more health care out of hospitals into the ‘home care’ realm (essentially onto unpaid family members) is not only irrational but inefficient. In Ontario, similar moves to push services from the hospital and into private institutions have resulted in disastrous events and the case of home care in Ontario is crucial to illustrating this.
Home care emerged as a necessary by-product of hospitals cuts and closures, both aimed at offloading care responsibility onto families in the home (mainly women in the home), thereby evading a slew of care costs covered within the confines of the hospital. In Ontario, this home care system is managed by 43 Community Care Access Centers (CCAC’s) set up by the Harris government in 1995. These centers employ case managers to assess home care needs but do so without the aid of nurses, therapists and personal support workers who actually provide the care; a prohibition mandated by the Harris government in order to open the doors to private contracted agencies via request for proposals (RFP’s). These newly hired private agencies tender contracts to provide this care, bringing with them their market based employment strategies and cheaper labour supplies. Next, rigid upper limits are set on the amount of public funds an individual may get, often based on the availability (or lack thereof) of family members to do the work. This is the next deliberate tactic to prevent use of funds by offloading care (and costs) onto the family. It is extremely problematic in the first place to assume that ‘available’ family members should or can automatically assume these responsibilities; and second, it ends up being that predominantly women get “conscripted” into this unpaid and unrecognized home care. This results in women losing out on paid employment opportunities that will sustain their present and future trajectories and re-institutes a systemic form of gender discrimination. Furthermore, it adds more broadly to the growing number of precarious labourers, as many women will either scale back from full-time to more casual, part-time forms of work to juggle their new, unanticipated caregiving duties.
This process also results in the devaluation of care work and with it emerges new and harmful effects for the newly privatized provider roles and recipients of home care. Specifically, since the new provider role is a highly isolating experience for the provider, it impacts one’s health and well-being as they are cut off from other external providers or care recipients available outside the home setting. In the alternative situation (where an individual does end up receiving public funds), they too are impacted by privatized employees, who are increasingly non-unionized, low-wage and time-crunched, often made to function as though the services they provide are no different from those offered by a fast food chain. They find themselves rushed to serve greater care recipient quotas in less time and in turn, find themselves having to do away with the invaluable socialization that is proven to promote good health. People thus receive poorer quality of care which impedes recovery, if not exacerbating the illness altogether.
The reality is, that when you begin institution measures like delisting certain services and medicines and contracting out hospital services, not only does care quality suffer (e.g. In Calgary, a contracted cleaner now cleans every 30,000 feet of floor compared to the public cleaner’s 10,000 feet allocation) but it sets in motion a privatization cycle which is now our current dilemma. Furthermore, there exists detrimental health consequences accrued to erroneously deeming certain health care workers as “ancillary”. A UK healthcare commission investigating the deaths of 41 seniors in a hospital ruled that the board ‘mistakenly prioritized other objectives such as the achievement of government targets, the control of finances and their configuration of services’ over infection control in such areas as cleaning’. You probably think this could never happen in Canada, but it has. Just this past October, 1 million dollars was awarded to the 70 families (of which 16 C-difficile deaths occurred) resulting from poor sanitation procedures on behalf of a Quebec Hospital (CBC News Canada). Clearly, maintenance and cleaning staff play a vital role in patient life and death and de-listing this labour from ‘direct care’ categories glosses over this glaring fact.
The fact of the matter is that when it comes to human beings and their health, we cannot deny the fact the quality in salesmanship of shoes per say, does not alter the shoe itself (hence the appeal with online shopping), however, the quality of care ‘servicing’ directly alters the human it services. As a result, there cannot be a transferability of market-based business strategies to the healthcare system with any equivalent success in outcomes. The units of analysis are fundamentally irreconcilable and because of this health and healthcare cannot be treated as commodities with any degree of fungibility.
7. Charging Go Train riders (who already pay close to double that of subway user fees) for parking is an attack on those who cannot afford to live in the GTA or along a subway line. Is this not an assault on those growing individuals who cannot afford to live in the highly priced GTA? On the provincial level, Ontario has the second highest average price of a house; $360,000 compared to $151,000 in New Brunswick, $134,000 in P.E.I, $207,000 in Nova Scotia and $222,000 in Manitoba. The priciest of those houses naturally reside in the GTA, thus prompting many families to move beyond the cities limits out of economic necessity. Paying higher commuting fees to simply get to the city where the majority of jobs are held adds further insult to injury.
8. Phasing out 70% of the 13,800 non-teaching jobs is merely a tactic to open up avenues for privatized corporate powers that can and will exploit Ontarian workers by having them do what they are doing now for significantly less wages, benefits and job security. It is another attack on unions and the ability of workers to unite in solidarity by forcefully breaking down their numerical power and non-democratically devaluing cherry-picked public occupations and deeming them ancillary. This is anti-labourist on several fronts and I can promise you, it will serve to further engender an angry, beaten-down, exploited and betrayed Ontarian workforce that are increasingly pushed out of any semblance of a middle class and into the poverty class.
9. Raising classroom sizes: did we not learn anything about the myriad of systematic studies performed on class sizes and student success?
10. Raising the costs of electricity and water bills and forgoing the 10% rebate is again, an attack on lower income-earning families who will soon not even be able to afford the costs of housing. Road tolls and gasoline taxes= same idea.
I truly hope the limited critique I provided on a handful of these most pressing measures reaches you and brings forth in you the same concern and fear it has brought upon me. I truly care for all Ontarians and believe the 99% (if I shall borrow Occupy terms) deserve not to be constantly forced to pay for the mistakes they did not create. It’s high time to make the 1% take some more responsibility for the ripple effects power, profit and ‘economic rationality’ have had on the rest of us average Ontarians.
I urge you to take heed of alternative, fairer measures to reduce the deficit. Mainly, CUPE Ontario provided a submission to Mr. Drummond, detailing a new revenue sources including increased taxes on banks and corporations and new tax surcharges on individual incomes over $300,000 and $500,000 annually. Recent Angus-Reid polling shows Ontarians overwhelmingly support such measures and the proposed changes alone would increase revenue by more than $9 billion a year, reducing the current provincial deficit by more than 50 percent.
Now that is a fair and honorable first step to deficit reduction.
A Concerned Ontarian.