2/21/13

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes from the Liberals on bargaining and health



The Throne Speech from the new Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne sticks fairly close to previous Liberal policy.

But it does make a few noteworthy new turns.

With the past Liberal government, the claim was they would expand home care. The problem was their expansion was more imaginary than real -- and the claimed expansion was served up as justification for real cuts in hospital and long term care. There is barely any change here:
"Along with all parties in the legislature, it (the government) understands the pressing need to expand access to home care in Ontario. And so your government will continue to expand the support available to people in their homes, and to address the needs of men and women across Ontario currently waiting for the home care services they require."
So, if we take them at their word, they will "continue" their existing policy. Whoopee.  The good news? At least there is some recognition here that they need to address the needs of people who are waiting for home care service, i.e. that there are unmet needs. The suggested change is so slight, however, it is perhaps foolish to hope to see much sign of it.

The speech goes on to add, "Your government will also continue to expand access to mental health services and support efforts to reduce stigma for men and women coping with mental illness."

This is supposed to be a sop to the Progressive Conservatives who have made some noises about mental health care. Well, if so, this may not amount to much.  PC leader, Tim Hudak, lost any leverage he may have had when he made clear that he is sticking to his far-right script -- he is not going to play ball with the Liberals and wants an election PDQ. 

 In any case, if this was a sop it wasn't much of one -- all the Liberals promised is to continue what they (say they) are already doing.

Somewhat more promisingly, the Liberals moved slightly towards more revenue for health care from the corporate sector:
"A renewed partnership with business, educational institutions, not-for-profits and labour will be at the heart of your government's plans to build a modern, competitive and dynamic economy.  And so your new government will work with the opposition and small business to explore an increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption threshold."
New funding from the Employer Health Tax would be welcome, but the promise is couched in so much caution that it is hard to get very excited.  

Also somewhat interesting is the call for a "renewed partnership" with business and labour.  There was never any question that the Liberals were (junior) partners with their Bay Street pals, but partnership with labour isn't the word that comes to mind when you consider their activities since this past summer (when they brought in their new public sector bargaining policy and tried to impose "agreements" on public sector workers).  

There is also some slight recognition of free collective bargaining and fair interest arbitration. 
"As your government moves forward, Ontario's labour force will be treated fairly and with respect. It will sit down with its partners across all sectors to build a sustainable model for wage negotiation, respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process, so that the brightness of our shared future is not clouded by the indisputable economic realities of our time."
But the recognition is so slight that, in fact, all sides claimed victory. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario, who are campaigning for employer biased changes to the interest arbitration system (although they only have themselves and the government to blame for their self-proclaimed problems), put out a news release trumpeting some of these very words. 

We'll see if the Wynne government actually does respect collective bargaining and if it does sit down with labour to develop new models of wage negotiation that actually do respect free collective bargaining.

In any case, all of this is only words.  And in a political world, words get lost pretty quickly.

We've gotten to this new situation through some significant efforts by working people in difficult circumstances (efforts that we can be proud of), but the struggles in the next few months by working people and corporations will determine if we go back to what we had, or move on to something different.

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