June 2022 / Toronto
I slept through it. TV on full blast at 3:00 am when I was awoken to hear CBC reporting what was by then old news. The Ford government had not only won a majority as predicted by media and other pundits, but he had a super majority. Didn’t really take it all in at that bewitching hour of the early morning; the time when our ancestors and angels whisper truths to us. I turned off the TV and went back to sleep a dreamless sleep.
My social media sites, emails and text were filled with messages of disbelief, frustration and anger. And concern. In equal parts those who commented- and there were many from the sector, from government, from family and friends, old and newish colleagues, there were two refrains: How could Ontarians reelect a government that had shown nothing but disdain for the majority of people in the province? And how could so many Ontarians stay home and not vote in such a pivotal election? I have no answers for either.
OCASI as a provincial Council – non-profit with charitable status - is non-partisan. The leadership of our membership, our staff and board represent the full political spectrum here in Ontario, from PC to NDP to Greens. Many are Liberals. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we found a few libertarians, quiet supporters of the anti-vaxxers, pro-Ottawa convoy and some who voted for the one or two new ultra-right parties that have emerged over the last couple of years as the political right in the country continue to splinter.
The premier-elect was able to cobble together an interesting coalition of centrists- centre, centre-right and centre-left, who understood the message that talk is cheap, and only boots on the ground at the voting booths, win elections. I’ll leave the deep analysis of what really happened with the Liberal and NDP opposition parties to those who are paid to do so.
My job and the job of the sector is to get clear about priorities and the strategies we would need to ensure our priorities informs the new Ontario public agenda.
The province has indicated that immigration will be a political priority in the coming years. Ontario currently receives almost forty percent of all im/migrants to Canada.
The im/migrant and refugee sector’s work is more important than ever. The sector must be resourced well to ensure that we are able to attract and retain talent. The successful integration and inclusion of the increasing numbers of newcomers to Ontario depends on it.
Working in coalition and amplifying the demands for affordable, accessible and adequate sized housing must be a priority for all of us working to counteract deepening poverty in our neigbourhoods and communities. Our calls to prioritize the houseless must include calls for not only new builds, but also portable housing subsidies and new and sufficient investments in existing social housing stocks.
All anti-poverty work must necessarily include demands to end the over-policing of those who already live in social housing and in our parks and ravines. We must call for a redirection of the millions of dollars, cities like Toronto have budgeted for police and private security to harass and expel those who live in deepest poverty, many who are Indigenous and racialized, from their makeshift homes on stolen land.
We know that there is an urgency to the work we must do to push back against the privatization of employment services, especially employment supports for those who must access social assistance for their daily sustenance which is inadequate at best. Doubling the monthly allocation for individuals and families on both ODSP and OW is a political imperative for all concerned about deepening poverty in our province.
Applying a gender and race analysis to Employment Ontario’s funded programs is also critical if we are to ensure that women- trans and cis- and racialized women, do not fall further behind economically. Women still earn 89 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Racialized women earn 59.3% of white men’s wage. The pay gap is even more stark for racialized im/migrant and refugee women.
We know that we must work to ensure a robust consultation on the role of the Antiracism Directorate resulting in a new five-year strategy that will move forward antiracist actions in all spheres of our province- from healthcare to policing to education to immigration and integration. The Directorate is now housed within the newly created Ministry of Citizenship and Multiculturalism. It is the only portfolio this ministry has. As a sector we need to decide if we want to advocate for immigration, settlement and integration to be moved to this ministry. At my last pulse check with the Council’s membership and others in the sector on this question, there was no consensus.
There is a forward momentum on progressive issues as more and more Ontario and Canadian residents come to understand the growing inequities and are given the information and the opportunities and the tools to stand up and speak out for justice. In spite of the Ontario provincial election results (which once again demonstrated why First Past The Post is a less than ideal democratic electoral tool), more and more Ontarians are showing up at the protest lines and demanding fair wages and decent working conditions for seasonal agricultural workers. More are putting pen to paper -or fingers to keyboards as the case may be, in letters to news outlets and the CBSA to stop the unfair deportations of Ontario residents who in spite of their precarious, often undocumented status have dedicated their life to hard work, family and building of their communities. And still others are walking hand in hand with exploited workers- demanding an end to wage theft and other nefarious employment practices.
The next four years provides us with an opportunity to build true progressive coalitions with a focus on centering the needs and aspirations of the many who live at the margins, boxed in by structural inequities that are the results of racism, patriarchy and capitalism.