Toronto’s labour movement joins many others calling for the retraction of the Order of Ontario to Mike Harris. And we commit to shinning a powerful light on his shameful record — one that deserves to be remembered as a cautionary tale by all Ontarians.
Read our statement: Ontario Disgraced- unanimously approved by our delegates Jan 7.
Read our Toronto Star Op-Ed: Toronto’s Unions call for the retraction of Mike Harris’ Order of Ontario published Jan 8.
Sign the petition: Stop Mike Harris Receiving Order of Ontario!
Toronto’s Unions call for the retraction of Mike Harris’ Order of Ontario
Doug Ford’s Conservative government has shown its true colours with the awarding of the Order of Ontario to disgraced former premier Mike Harris. Reaction has been swift and widespread across civil society as people recall the callous behaviour of the Harris regime.
His 1995 “Common Sense Revolution” brought the worst traits of the politics of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan into Canada’s largest province. Greed and avarice were glorified, while millions of Ontarians were marginalized.
Indigenous groups recall his words that set in motion the events leading to the OPP killing of Dudley George — “I want those f**king Indians out of the park.” Anti-poverty activists point to the massive cuts to welfare rates and social housing that saw homelessness spiral out of control.
Equity groups remember how he used “dog whistle” racist messaging to win his majority, and immediately repealed employment equity legislation and shut down the Anti-Racism Secretariat. Construction workers saw housing and transit projects cancelled and $100 million wasted to fill in the Eglinton subway excavation.
Wholesale attacks on workers’ rights and public services sparked the Days of Action — general strikes in city after city to protest the Harris agenda. Then came the assault on public education, with the minister aiming to “create a crisis in education” in order to gut the entire system.
We saw the undermining of workplace safety and massive cuts to health care. The Conservatives closed hospitals and compared laid-off nurses to “hula-hoop makers unhappy with their jobs being changed.” Highway 407 was sold for a song. Each year brought new attacks on collective bargaining and workers’ rights. Until, finally, Harris stepped down and in the 2003 election the Conservatives were crushed.
Perhaps the bitterest memory of those years was the tragedy of Walkerton. Cut to safety standards and inspections put the water system of that small town in jeopardy. Over 2,000 residents were sickened and seven people died of tainted water.
The horrors that befell that community are mirrored in the suffering in today’s long-term care homes. Before he left politics, Harris oversaw a massive expansion of private companies into homecare and the long-term care sector, while lowering standards of care. As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed, these companies are making immense profit from a business model based on poverty wages, precarious work, and cutting corners.
Today, Harris stands out as chair of the board of Chartwell, making $237,000 a year for a part-time position. And the death toll mounts.
How could a supposedly neutral advisory council on the Order of Ontario make such a recommendation? Maybe because Ford has stacked the council with Conservative operatives, such as Julian Fantino, Paul Godfrey, Isabel Basset and Ted Arnot.
They also saw fit to award the man behind the sleazy full-page newspaper ads attacking teachers under the guise of Vaughan Working Families — Michael DeGasperis. It’s all part of political payback — standard procedure today for a political tribe that has long ago lost its moral compass.
Today, Ontarians continue to suffer every day as a result of Mike Harris’ shameful record. Elderly care homes ravaged by disease and despair. Frontline health care workers exhausted with no reinforcements in sight. Parents and teachers abandoned as our children struggle to cope. Testing and vaccine delivery stalled. Workers unable to quarantine without guaranteed financial security. Mass evictions and tent cities in the bitter cold. Local businesses destroyed. All the while billions of federal transfers meant to bolster our COVID-19 response remain unspent. One can draw a direct line from Harris’ so called “Common Sense Revolution” to our current malaise.
Toronto’s labour movement joins many others calling for the retraction of the Order of Ontario to Mike Harris. And we commit to shining a powerful light on his shameful record — one that deserves to be remembered as a cautionary tale by all Ontarians.
John Cartwright is the president of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, representing 220,000 women and men across all sectors of the economy.