Considerations for low-income voters

If one or more of the following describes your situation, then you and your family have an awful lot at stake in the outcome of the June 7th provincial election:

  • You’re a minimum or near-minimum wage earner;
  • You need to take multiple poorly-paying jobs just to put food on the table and cover your rent;
  • Your job or jobs offer few if any benefits and/or very little security;
  • If one or more of those jobs entails an unpleasant, abusive or unsafe workplace, you have no choice but to put up with it;
  • You support a family member who suffers from long-term or recurring physical and/or mental health issues;
  • You have one or more children who you hope will have better life chances than what you had, but don’t see how you can afford to help them get the post-secondary education needed to qualify for better jobs.

While Doug Ford gets lots of media attention for his blathering about Kathleen Wynne not living up to her promises, that’s simply not true. The fact is that Ms. Wynne promised action towards a fairer Ontario economy as one of her top priorities from the moment she was sworn in as Premier, and she has been living up to that promise ever since. Consider the major minimum-wage hikes; mandatory extension of benefits to part-time employees; expanded rent controls to protect people against sudden, dramatic rent increases that force them out of their homes; free post-secondary tuition for students from low- to middle-income households; free prescription drugs for your children and free quality child care for preschoolers; as well as major improvements to ODSP and Ontario Works. All of these programs serve to reduce the extreme stress that has been building on lower-income families and individuals. Additionally, her government has launched a major three-year pilot project to test the feasibility and cost of providing a basic income guarantee as the ultimate economic safety net for all Ontarians. If successful and implemented, basic income will largely eliminate the threat of real poverty hanging over the heads of everyone whose jobs could be lost to automation in coming years.

Now, can anyone actually imagine that all these improvements in people’s life chances and circumstances would have happened under a PC government, especially one led by Doug Ford? And how many of those gains will be lost over the next four years if he should become Premier? Conservative governments have traditionally deemed improvements to social programs as too expensive to undertake, whereas Liberals are more inclined to do deeper analysis which reveals that the real long-term costs of an inadequate safety net for families and individuals are almost invariably higher. True to form, Mr. Ford is promising to find “savings” to balance the budget while simultaneously cutting tax rates on corporations and individuals. If history is any indication, those “savings” will surely include measures that will reduce the incomes of lower-income people while the tax cuts will primarily benefit those in the upper-income levels; i.e., they serve primarily to further increase inequality.

But Mr. Ford is more than just a conservative. His words and behaviour strongly suggest that he is a classic example of a populist politician. Such politicians typically come to power by convincing those who are unhappy with the current system to vote for them, not realizing that the changes that they will actually make once elected will be contrary to the best interests of those same voters. For example, Mr. Ford has recently promised to keep Ontario’s minimum wage at its current $14 level rather than allowing it to rise to $15 on January 1, 2019 as had been legislated by the current Liberal government. In its place, he says that he will introduce a new tax credit for anyone earning minimum wage that will bring their tax down to zero. In reality, his proposed tax credit doesn’t come close to compensating minimum-wage workers for the income that they will lose if their pay is frozen at the $14 hourly rate, and they will be significantly out of pocket as a result. Click here to see the detailed calculations for full- and part-time employees. His grossly misleading claims that his plan will save them money when the opposite is true constitute strong evidence that a Doug Ford government would be harmful to low-income voters and their families.

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