Northern Lights

Get with the program, Andrea

When voters in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, go to the polls on Oct. 6, will they reward the party with the “coolest” leader, or the one with the best policies?

Andrea Horwath, Leader of the labour-based New Democratic Party of Ontario, seems to be aiming at “cool,” sadly at the expense of feminism. To deflect media criticism that she is keeping much of the NDP election platform under wraps, Horwath quipped, “I’m a woman—I know you don’t give it up all at once.” Later, she pledged to “balance the budget on high heels.”
Many women are not amused. In any case, mildly sexist jokes are no substitute for a Workers’ Agenda. Neither is a platform that emphasizes “Making life affordable” and “Live within our means.” Instead of aspartame to make the capitalist medicine go down, working people crave an alternative. Socialist policies are that alternative.
In the first place, survival is the issue, not just “affordability.” The lack of secure, decent-paying jobs, the mounting debt weighing down workers, the growing scourge of homelessness and disease, against a backdrop of environmental degradation and wars of occupation, show that measures against capitalist power and privilege are sorely needed.
Capital and the rich should pay for the crises their system creates. The Ontario NDP should campaign to eliminate the HST, not just remove it from hydro and home heating. Freezing prices at the gas pump and at the transit fare box would be commendable, but should be part of a plan to nationalize Big Oil and Gas. That way mega-profits from the resource sector could be invested in green energy alternatives and adequate funding for mass public transportation.
Job creation is a top priority. It will not come primarily from concessions to small business. It will come from government action to create, or operate, existing industries democratically and in the public interest. Corporate tax giveaways should be reversed, not just halted. U.S. Steel in Hamilton should be nationalized under workers’ and community control. The same should be done to bad bosses and runaway employers like IQT Solutions in Oshawa.
Health care, including drugs and eye care, should be exclusively public and non-profit. So should education. It ought to be free through university, with no public funding for private or religious schools. Universally accessible, quality education can be financed by a re-vamped, steeply graduated tax system that targets high incomes, speculators, corporate profits, and huge inheritances.
In view of deepening food, debt, and ecological crises (featuring rampant floods, wild fires, drought, nuclear fall-out), now is the time to conscript big wealth for system change. “Balancing the budget” on the backs of workers, farmers, women, youths, and seniors is not what’s needed.
Greece is our inspiration, not for its austerity measures, but for its workers fighting back. This fight is continuing across Europe, North Africa, Latin America, and beyond.
Capping CEO salaries and halting the use of consult-ants at Queen’s Park, as the NDP demands, would be good mini-steps. But the party should be talking about slashing CEO salaries and democratizing crown corporations and government ministries.
While calling for a full, public, union-led enquiry into all aspects of the June 2010 G-20 Summit planning and policing, we demand a radical reduction of expenditures on policing, on weapons and surveillance equipment. Stop state litigation against indigenous peoples, unions, women’s organizations striving for justice in the workplace, and climate justice seekers.
It is wonderful that Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP are campaigning to form a government. We may benefit from the “orange wave” still rippling from the May 2 federal election tsunami. But because opinion polls show the Oct. 6 vote could produce a minority Conservative government, it is critical that the NDP pledge now that it will not enter into a coalition government with the Liberals or with any capitalist party.
The New Democratic Party, as Ontario’s official opposition or as government, should fight for a Workers’ Agenda, for eco-socialist measures, to make capital pay for its crisis and for the needed environmental clean-up. It should fight to make quality education and health care a right for all Ontarions. Our task is not to make capitalism work better for the rich, but to establish a democratic socialist alternative in the interests of the vast majority.  ~Barry Weisleder
OPSEU mobilizes public workers with ‘pink slip’ day
TORONTO—The attack on public sector workers in Ontario is in full swing. On July 14, 274 Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) members received notice that they would be “surplused.”
This is the largest wave of layoffs since the dark days of former Tory Premier Mike Harris. The Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty declared that 1900 full-time jobs would be cut from the Ontario Public Service (OPS) by March 31, 2012.
Public-service workers are pawns in a political game. We are victims of the business-led austerity drive in Canada, spurred by the global capitalist crisis that erupted with the economic crash in 2008. Activists in OPSEU, the largest provincial public sector union in Canada, asked OPS members to wear pink on July 14. “Pink Slip Day” was designed to raise solidarity and to show the bosses that we are organizing.
Local 532, which includes workers at the Ministry of the Environment, took it one step further by conducting an information picket at the busy Yonge and St. Clair corridor in Toronto. We distributed hundreds of leaflets describing the effects of cuts to public services. Union members and the general public responded well to the information.
Ontarions overwhelmingly support strong public services. But the pink slips delivered to members resulted in the elimination of the Drinking Water Lead Inspection Programme. The government cut front-line water inspectors who test municipal drinking water systems.
The cuts also impact some of the most vulnerable people in our society. For example, the Ministry of Community and Social Services will stop delivering Special Services At Home by March 31, 2012. This program supports adults with developmental disabilities who, upon leaving the school system, wish to continue to live in the community, usually with their family.
Labour activists should begin to plan actions to mobilize our members and stop the austerity measures. Only mass action by workers can defeat the austerity drive. A huge rally in front of the Ontario Legislature at Queens Park would be a good next step. Members of other unions should be invited to participate. Further actions should include walk-outs and/or extended lunch breaks in the workplace.
At regional OPSEU gatherings we often hear rank-and-file members say, “We need leadership,” and we hear union officials say, “Tell us what to do.” It’s time to break this vicious circle and plan to take some concrete, broad protest actions now.  ~Julius Arscott, Vice President, OPSEU Local 532.

Resurgence of LGBT left in Toronto
Events in Greater Toronto Area (GTA) queer communities over the last year strongly suggest a resurgence in grassroots struggles and campaigns. Taking inspiration from the history of the earlier gay liberation movement, there is increasing resistance to the assimilationist and opportunist direction of the (largely self-appointed) LGBT “leadership.”
Resistance surfaced spectacularly during the run-up to Pride week (2010) last year, when Pride Toronto (PT) abjectly caved in to pro-Zionist attacks on the participation of Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) in the annual Pride March. Initially, Pride bureaucrats tried to impose a process in which signs and slogans would be vetted in advance.
This stance produced a storm of protest, including a large community meeting of around 400, which founded the Pride Coalition for Free Speech. This first attempt at censorship was discarded. But on May 26, citing attacks on city Pride funding by right-wing media and politicians, PT held a press conference to announce that any reference to “Israeli Apartheid” would be banned. Outside the PT office, 150 protesters organized by QuAIA loudly demonstrated. It was an impressive turnout on short notice, on a weekday. Following the demonstration, many present and past honorees of Pride publicly declined or returned their awards. PT eventually rescinded its decision. Large contingents from both QuAIA and the free speech coalition marched in the parade.
Following Pride 2010, PT set up a “community consultation” process to deflect growing criticism of its bureaucratic and high-handed practices. True to form, the process was transparently skewed so that the result would not be too embarrassing. So much so that Queer Ontario (QO) decided to boycott the process, present its own recommendations and seek to meet directly with the PT board.
This year, QuAIA decided not to march, to avoid giving city hall reactionaries and pro-Zionists a pretext to cut Pride funding (and presumably, in the event that funding was cut, to blunt any smear campaign that it was all their fault.) QuAIA didn’t march, but did unfurl a large banner from the top of the Wellesley St. subway station: “Support Palestinian Queers/Boycott Israeli Tourism.”
This act enraged right-wing and homophobic city councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, as did anti-apartheid signs and pro-Palestinian chants in the Dyke March the previous day. The Dyke procession is a separate event from the Pride Parade, organized by women independently. Given to clownish and demagogic stunts, Mammoliti videotaped the Dyke March, allegedly to collect “evidence” to support his fund-cutting campaign!
More significantly, the previous weekend saw the first Stonewall march, attended by at least 1000 participants (see article in last month’s Socialist Action). For years people fed up with the increasingly corporatized and bureaucratic official Pride had talked about creating an alternative event, more community-oriented and in the spirit of the original Stonewall rebellion. Since PT had vacated that weekend to move Pride to the first weekend in July, organizers seized the opportunity, drawing impressive numbers of younger people, women, transgendered people, and minorities.
The most encouraging trend has been the growth and development of Queer Ontario. (Although centred in Toronto, it is a province-wide organization, and steps are planned to provide for more involvement by members across Ontario.) QO is the successor organization to the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario (CLGRO), which for 35 years waged a principled and militant struggle for queer rights, one of the major highlights being the amendment of the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1986 to include sexual orientation.
Thanks to membership growth, especially the addition of new and younger activists, QO has been able to move toward holding more public events and being more directly involved in immediate issues.
One of the most important of those is support for Catholic high-school students in their struggle against the church hierarchy (and the Ministry of Education’s refusal to enforce its own policies) and in favour of the right to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools. QO has been actively engaged in support of free speech at Pride and the push for community control. On the 40th anniversary of the first gay demonstration on Parliament Hill, Aug. 28, it is organizing an updated repeat rally in Ottawa under the slogan, “We (Still) Demand” (the original demonstration’s theme was “We Demand”).
Queer Ontario to date has been everything operations like Pride Toronto are not—democratic, inclusive, independent, and with a liberationist perspective. Its independence is illustrated by its insistence on holding accountable the Ontario Liberal government’s Ministry of Education for refusal to enforce its own policies on GSAs, where others argue for the bankrupt “lesser-evil” politics of taking a soft line on the Liberals lest the more right-wing Conservatives win the next election. QO offers the kind of leadership needed to spark a renewal of queer liberation.  ~John Wilson

Ontario mega-quarry arouses opposition
An application to dig the largest quarry in Canadian history (and the second largest in North America) in prime agricultural land near Toronto has aroused widespread opposition. According to rabble.ca, the quarry would stretch over 2300 acres and dip 200 feet below the water table—making it deeper than Niagara Falls. Located at the headwaters of important river systems in Melancthon, Ontario, the proposed gravel “mega-quarry” would pump out 600 million litres of water every day, raising important concerns about its effects on the local water supply.
The operation would also see 150 loaded trucks leave the quarry every hour to travel down local roads. This would inevitably create dust, noise, and safety problems for local residents.
One would think that such an unprecedented project would attract rigorous government scrutiny. However, that is not the case. Rather than proceeding through a full-scale environmental assessment under the auspices of the Ontario Ministry of Environment, the application is currently being reviewed under the laxer and less environmentally focused standards of the Ministry of Natural Resources. This is an easier process for the project owner, The Highland Companies, and the U.S. hedge fund behind it, but one that will fail to fully consider the effects of the quarry on the people and natural life to be forced to live with it.
In response, the local community is mobilizing, and has drawn attention to the quarry in high places. The Leader of the labour-based Ontario New Democratic Party, Andrea Howarth, plus the Council of Canadians and a host of local politicians have condemned the project. The famed David Suzuki Foundation expressed serious concerns. Grassroots organizing included a five-day march from the provincial legislature in Toronto to Melancthon by 200 concerned citizens. It began, appropriately, on April 22, Earth Day 2011.
Socialists propose an immediate cancellation of the mega-quarry approval process, and urge all concerned Ontarians to add their voice in opposition to this environmentally, economically, and socially destructive project.  ~Eric Kupka