By PATRICK HUNTER
A week from now, the people of Ontario will be called upon to elect a new government. That includes most of you. On June 12, between the hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., that opportunity will be open. If you are a qualified voter, I urge you to take advantage of this opportunity. Your life – and livelihood – may depend on the outcome.
A qualified voter? Simply, a Canadian citizen that is a resident of Ontario and is at least 18 years old. If you are not registered, you can do that at the polling station provided you have appropriate documentation that shows your age and residential address. You will have to take an oath that confirms who you are and other voter qualifications. If you have any concerns, check in with Elections Ontario by telephone or on their website.
That was my public service announcement. But there is more to this thing. The choice you make in your selection of candidate goes toward the political party. In our system of elections, the party with the most elected candidates is the one that will be formally asked by the Lieutenant Governor to form a government.
There has been much said during this campaign about the shortcomings of each party as demonstrated by each leader. Leadership is one part of the discussion – the matter of trust and sincerity as well as someone who has demonstrated that they have the best interest of the people of Ontario at heart.
Perhaps the most significant parts of the qualifications are the programs and policies that the party, as messaged through its leaders, will follow should they form the government. This is where the rubber, as it were, hits the road. Coming into play, in examining those qualifications, are the history of past performances – as a government and in opposition.
For the African Canadian community, a lot rides on the outcome on the night of June 12 and beyond. So far, in this campaign, there has been very little, if anything, which has surfaced that specifically considers the Black community’s state of affairs.
In just about every statistic that you can think of – unemployment, youth unemployment, education, poverty – the Black community is highest, or very close (First Nation communities are often more disadvantaged) to being the most disadvantaged. Notwithstanding the Canadian spirit of denying racism, there is a racial element in those statistics. None of the political parties have mentioned, let alone detailed, a program that recognizes the concerns and disadvantages of the Black community and propose specific ideas or programs that are designed to improve the community’s condition.
We are expected to take heart from proposals to increase minimum wage, and generic proposals to create jobs, In other words, the crumbs.
Tim Hudak proposes to cut 100,000 jobs from the public sector. Apart from the mere fact that cutting jobs means increased unemployment, many of those jobs will include social service supports. Other areas include nursing, junior or entry-level clerical work in which the majority of Black females are located, teaching and teaching assistants, thus increasing class sizes and rolling back gains in attention to students in schools where there are higher concentrations of Black students.
One of the frequently argued points as the dust settled in wake of the Mike Harris-led Progressive Conservative government of the late 90s was that he did what he said he was going to do. Some of the people making that observation were Black people, many of them were those who suffered the consequences of those promises.
The Harris-led government virtually outlawed the use, let alone the consideration, of “racism and racial discrimination” in the language of the civil service. It would not be an exaggeration, by any means, that much of the challenges and violence among the Black youth today can be directly linked to the policies of the Harris cuts. Many people have made that connection. Hudak now wants to emulate that period.
The Liberal Party, under the McGuinty leadership, did not make any significant effort to correct much of the devastation to our community in the wake of Harris’ scorched-earth policies. They refused to consider restoring the Employment Equity Act, or some version of it. They subsequently made promises to re-establish a Cabinet committee on racism, and a secretariat for the same purpose. Those are still dangling in the dark. The trail of broken promises to the Black community can be reviewed through the recommendations of the “The Roots of Youth Violence” report which the McGuinty Liberals commissioned and which have largely been unimplemented.
We have had one NDP government in the province, and in its brief one-term existence it did more to not only focus attention on the Black community and racism, but to raise the self-confidence and morale of the community than any other government. The current leadership of the NDP has not been outspoken on these issues at all. One can only hope that if they are asked to form the government, they will adhere to the policies that are in their books that deal with these issues.
Friday, June 13 could be a moment of despair or hope. Let us hope it’s the latter.