Supervised Injection In Toronto: Why The Discussion Has Screeched To A Halt

By Joe Fantauzzi

Drug use is a multifaceted issue in urban life. Addiction can take an enormous toll on individuals and can leave the municipalities in which those people live struggling to adequately service their needs as well as the needs of the community. Supervised injection facilities, in which users consume drugs in a safe, clean space aided by sterile equipment and attendant medical professionals, have emerged as a new field of Canadian urban policy. I contend that despite medical evidence and the recommendations of medical professionals across Canada who advocate supervised injection as a harm-reducing approach to drug use, an attitude of condescension and moral castigation toward drug users by the federal government and police have halted efforts to expand such services in Toronto. To prove this contention, I will first examine the broad background of supervised injection in Canada, which culminated in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Insite case. I will then explore the positions of various actors involved in the issue from politicians to medical experts to law enforcement to grassroots activists. Finally, I will analyze these positions vis-à-vis the current debate about supervised injection.

In order to discuss the safe injection debate in Toronto, the conversation must be placed in proper context. Vancouver’s supervised injection site, Insite, opened in 2003. It was given permission to remain open permanently as a result of a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2011 in the case of Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society.[1] Heroin and crack cocaine appeared in Vancouver in the 1960s and joined alcohol in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood as drugs of choice for those struggling with unemployment and addiction, Kathleen Dooling tells us.[2] Drug-related deaths in British Columbia exploded by 815.4% between 1988 (39 deaths) and 1993 (357 deaths), with more than 50% occurring in Vancouver. Ninety percent of those deaths were connected to heroin use.[3] To combat the problem in Vancouver, a “four-pillar strategy” was agreed to by federal, provincial and municipal governments. Along with prevention, treatment/rehabilitation and enforcement, the fourth pillar was harm reduction. In 2002, Larry Campbell, a supervised injection-friendly candidate was elected mayor of Vancouver. Shortly thereafter, the federal government granted an exemption to Insite to begin offering supervised injection services.[4]

The culture around supervised injection arguably changed in Ottawa in 2006 with the election of the federal Conservative Party. Federal Health Minister Tony Clement proclaimed that he would “defer” the approval of another exemption for Insite from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), Canada’s federal drug law.[5] In 2008, the operator of Insite, the Portland Hotel Society, went to court with the aim of breaking Ottawa’s control over Insite.[6] After losing both at the British Columbia Supreme Court and the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the federal government took Insite to the Supreme Court of Canada.[7] Canada’s highest court ruled that Insite must be granted an exemption from federal drug laws and be allowed to remain open. In its decision, the court ruled that the government’s refusal to grant the exception had violated the Charter rights of Insite patients[8] to life, liberty and the security of person.[9] Insite is the first legal supervised injection site in North America.[10]

Supervised Injection As Harm Reduction
Numerous studies have been conducted on whether supervised injection is an effective form of harm reduction for injection drug users. While it is impossible to recount all of those studies here, a few broad conclusions can be drawn. Toronto Public Health reports that supervised injection sites reduce overdose deaths and reduce behaviours that cause HIV and hepatitis C infection (e.g., sharing injection supplies). It also tells us that injection drug users report increased use of detox and addiction treatment services, that there are reductions in public drug use and in publically discarded needles and there is no increases in crime in the area surrounding the supervised injection site.[11] The push for supervised injection in Toronto gained steam with the release of the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment (TOSCA) report in April 2012. The report examines whether such sites would be feasible in those cities. The authors of the report conclude Toronto would benefit from three supervised injection facilities.[12] Currently, and as of July 2013, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health recommends the “Board of Health urge the provincial government to fund the integration of supervised injection services, on a pilot basis, into existing provincially-funded clinical health services for people who use drugs in Toronto, and fund the evaluation of this pilot.” Along with the harm reduction, the report notes that 61% of those “who injected drugs in the six months preceding” a Toronto study “tested positive for hepatitis C, and 6% tested positive for HIV.”[13] In 2010, clients visited facilities that provide harm reduction services 75,000 times. More than 1 million needles were handed out during the same period of time.[14]

Political Response
There can be little doubt that supervised injection in Toronto is a political hot button issue. As previously noted, the city’s bureaucracy, specifically its public health authority has officially committed to maintaining harm reduction as a pillar of the municipal approach. The messaging from politicians, however, is not quite as straightforward. Rob Ford, the city’s current mayor is opposed to the creation of a supervised injection site. “No way, no, I’m not supporting that whatsoever,” Ford says in July 2013. “Trust me, it’s the worst thing that could happen to this city right now.”[15] However, Councillor Gord Perks, the chairperson of Toronto Drug Strategy is committed to harm reduction and open to the creation of a supervised injection site. Perks has been involved with the siting of shelters, low-income housing and a methadone clinic.[16] “It’s a settled question in Canada that people have the right to access this particular health service. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on that. You can’t unreasonably deny people access to supervised injection,”[17] Perks says in an interview. There has been no formal statement by the city about where supervised injection should be located but “[t]here is logic from putting it in existing facility that serves the target population. That would suggest a downtown (community health centre) ─ such as (Parkdale),” he says. Perks views addiction as a health issue; not an issue of moral failing on the part of the drug user.[18] “If there is a moral question around it, it is why do some people get access to health services and not others? The population who are suffering from addiction are definitely in crisis. They are definitely socially marginalized, criminalized, and have trouble accessing not just safe injection services but a broad range of health services because of all stigma and legal barriers that they face.”[19]

The provincial reaction to recommendations for supervised injection services in Toronto has been varied. At times, the province has appeared unwilling to even consider the idea. “Supervised injection sites aren’t something that we’re moving forward with right now,” Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister of Health writes on July 2, 2013. [20] She notes that needle exchange and methadone treatment are what the province is focused on as far as harm reduction.[21] The province eventually nuances its position somewhat, pointing to the federal government as a roadblock. “Given that the federal government’s approval would be a prerequisite, at this point we have no plans to move forward with supervised injection sites,” Samantha Grant, press secretary for Matthews writes eight days later.[22] Toronto Councillor Perks expects that the province will eventually take a hands-off approach if Toronto establishes a site for safe injection that meets with disapproval from the federal government. “I think that in the final confrontation that’s going to happen around the site somewhere, right now, if I had to bet, I’d bet that the province would just stay out of it and wait to see what happens between us and the federal government.”[23]

For its part, the Conservative Party of Canada has opposed supervised injection since its election in 2006. In a campaign speech in December 2005, now-Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared: “We as a government will not use taxpayers' money to fund drug use.”[24] In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Insite decision, the government has introduced new legislation dubbed the Respect For Communities Act. The legislation would, among other things, require the applicant to prove a need for a supervised injection site, estimate the “potential impacts of the proposed activities at the site on public safety”, provide a letter from the local police chief with an opinion about the proposed site and “include a report on the consultations held with relevant community groups in the municipality where the site would be located.”[25]

In official statements, government members of Parliament have emphasized that in its Insite ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the Minister of Health to “exercise discretion” in granting exceptions to the CDSA for those who want to open a supervised injection site.[26] Conservative MP Eve Adams tells us that legislation on the topic of supervised injection must balance “both public health and safety”[27] There is agreement across the country “and certainly in Ontario” that communities should be consulted before development occurs, she notes. “These are the individuals who have helped to build the fabric of that community. They are the ones who define the character of the community.”[28] Adams wants Canadians to remember that a drug user attending supervised injection sites has purchased and consumed non-prescription drugs.[29] “That individual then leaves the premises hopped up to do as he or she would. This addict may hang out on the sidewalk or wander down to the local park or the front of the grocery store as our mothers may be trying to walk down that very same street. Surely our mothers ought to be consulted about the impact this will have on their local community.”[30]

Some critics, such as Vancouver harm reduction activist Maxine Davis, the Executive Director of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, call the proposed federal legislation “draconian.”[31] Others take a different approach, questioning the agenda behind the bill. “While the intent of the Bill may be to stimulate a legitimate community consultation process, the list of information requirements contained in the current text (27 in total) places an emphasis on the opinions of non-local governments and stakeholders, as opposed to those of the community. As such, it is (the Canadian Public Health Association)’s opinion that, if enacted, the Bill will subvert the interests of the community, in contradiction to its stated title,” Ian Culbert, the group’s Executive Director writes.[32]

Law and Order
It is fair to say that supervised injection has not been received with open arms by much of the policing community in Canada. Toronto Police has made several statements that the force does not support a supervised injection site within the city’s borders. The spokesperson for Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has said Blair is concerned about “the tremendous damage that is caused to neighbourhoods where these facilities set up.”[33] However, if it a spike in crime that worries Blair, Vancouver Police report no such “increase in crime or disorder” in connection with Insite even after “several external examinations.”[34] Blair also tells the authors of a 2012 study investigating police attitudes about supervised injection that such approaches may cause confusion in a society that has declared the consumption of certain substances unlawful. “[T]he ambiguous messaging that comes out from a society that says you can’t use these drugs, they’re against the law, but if you do, we’ll provide you a place to do it in. The ambiguity of that, it’s a little bit problematic when you’re trying to explain to young people about the consequences of illegal drug use. And we are interested in trying to discourage them from that.”[35]

The Toronto Police position appears to also be guiding much of Ontario’s policing community. A February 2012 paper penned by Toronto Police Superintendent Ron Taverner for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police rejects proposals to establish supervised injection sites anywhere in the province.[36] Taverner notes his paper did not examine “the potential medical benefits to drug users” of setting up such facilities. However, he does go as far as to conclude: “illegal drugs are harmful and usually purchased with proceeds of crime.”[37] Taverner also claims the drug trade that occurs before patients visit a supervised injection site “will facilitate the continued victimization of the community, and only serve to profit organized crime groups.”[38]

Even if municipalities wished to point to the Supreme Court ruling on Insite as precedent to open a supervised injection site, legal scholarship casts doubt on the potential of pursuing the same rights challenges for a new facility. A paper by Elaine Hyshka, Tania Bubela and T. Cameron Wild references work by R.P. Argawal who argues the Insite ruling is of “limited utility outside Vancouver”[39] because the Supreme Court noted Insite’s efficacy (which was established before the Supreme Court decision) set the “threshold” for the challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[40] “Based on this, (Argawal) argues that future (supervised injection facilities) are ‘doomed to fail because there is simply no way to prove that a new site will have the same level of success.’”[41] But, Hyshka et al note Canadian legal tradition may allow “generic evidence of (supervised injection facility) efficacy alongside evidence of local need and community support” in the aim of establishing a facility.[42]

As has been previously established, the prevailing legal opinion is that the Insite ruling is not a blanket endorsement of harm reduction in Canada. There are, however, health activists working their side of the street in the debate. In Vancouver, Maxine Davis went public in 2013 with the admission that she “and her nursing staff frequently supervise patients while they inject illegal drugs—mostly cocaine and heroin” in contravention of the CDSA. “The most effective HIV services have to include supervised injection,” Davis tells Paul C. Webster in The Lancet. “It may be illegal, but it's humane and medically necessary.”[43]

In Toronto, supervised injection site activism by some non-profit organizations is ramping up. Some of those groups, such as AIDS Action Now, are pointing an accusing finger at the federal government and blaming it for the lack of services in the city. "The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) continues to use scare tactics and NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) to campaign against life-saving, evidence-based health services for people who use drugs.”[44]

Toronto Councillor Perks says he has heard stories about “informal efforts” in the city “to provide more safety to drug users than the law permits”[45] but he cannot confirm if those rumours are true.[46] The Toronto Drug Strategy is not prepared to encourage the creation of a supervised injection site without permission from the federal government, according to Perks. “If medical professionals operate a safe injection service without an exemption from the controlled substances act, they are at risk of significant legal consequences. It is not just me having political courage that is at issue here. You are asking people to put their careers and maybe even their freedom on the line. I know there are voices in the community who think we should do that because there are lives at stake.”[47]

Two overarching debates appear to be emerging from discussions about supervised injection in Toronto. The first, and most prominent, appears to be aligning proponents of supervised injection on amoral medical/harm reduction grounds and opponents along moral/public safety lines. It can be determined that proponents typically include many in the academic and medical fields along with progressive politicians and of, course, activists. Those opposed are primarily represented by conservative political forces and the policing community. The second debate concerns harm reduction. Gordon Roe tells us that as a social movement harm reduction was filled with activists and revolutionaries. However, as a governmental structure, Roe claims that harm reduction is inherently neoliberal.[48] “Harm reduction’s supposed ‘radical’ reforms were accepted because they reduce the medical and political burden on the state and divert certain segments of the drug using population out of the legal system.”[49] These debates raise important questions about what purpose harm reduction will ultimately be used for by the state. What is clear is that there is a population of Torontonians using drugs and being denied the opportunity to do so safely by those seemingly motivated by conservative biopolitical morals. This locates drug-using people outside Toronto society in which they ultimately suffer political[50] ─ and even biological ─ death.

The current debate over supervised injection in Canada is mired in ideological gridlock. The federal government and policing community are currently functioning as the lead obstacles to the establishing of new supervised injection sites. Medical evidence and the Supreme Court endorse supervised injection as a legitimate method to curb death and risks to public health. However, unless ideological shifts occur, it is unlikely supervised injection will become entrenched as a method of improving the quality of lives of drug users. Discussions about how harm reduction becomes normalized are crucial in the case of Toronto while facilities are being established. Otherwise, harm reduction techniques may function merely as a neoliberal broom to sweep drug users under the carpet and out the sight of the state and civil society.

Wikimedia Commons

[1] Supreme Court of Canada, “Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society,” September 30, 2011, http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7960/index.do (accessed March 15, 2014).
[2] Kathleen Dooling and Michael Rachlis, “Vancouver’s supervised injection facility challenges Canada’s drug laws,” Canadian Medical Association Journal, 182 no. 13 (September 21, 2010), http://www.cmaj.ca/content/182/13/1440 (accessed March 15, 2014).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Supreme Court of Canada, “Canada (Attorney General) v. PHS Community Services Society,”, http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7960/index.do (accessed March 15, 2014).
[9] Government of Canada, “Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” http://lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html (accessed March 20, 2014).
[10] Vancouver Coastal Health, “Insite - Supervised Injection Site,” http://supervisedinjection.vch.ca/ (accessed March 20, 2014).
[11] City of Toronto, “Supervised Injection Services in Toronto,” June 21, 2013, http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2013/hl/bgrd/backgroundfile-59886.pdf (accessed March 24, 2014): 4.
[12] Report of the Toronto and Ottawa Supervised Consumption Assessment Study, 2012, http://www.catie.ca/en/resources/report-toronto-and-ottawa-supervised-consumption-assessment-study-2012, (accessed March 12, 2014): 14.
[13] City of Toronto, “Supervised Injection Services in Toronto,” 1.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Don Peat, “Mayor Rob Ford strongly opposes safe injection sites,” Toronto Sun, July 3, 2013, http://www.torontosun.com/2013/07/03/porter-expansion-bixis-future-on-executive-committee-agenda (accessed March 29, 2014).
[16] Joe Fantauzzi, “Interview with Toronto Councillor Gord Perks on March 18, 2014,” 4:44
[17] Ibid., 0:31
[18] Ibid., 2:56
[19] Ibid., 3:05
[20] Sunny Dhillon, “Report pushes for supervised injection sites in Toronto,” The Globe and Mail, July 2, 2013, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/report-pushes-for-supervised-injection-sites-in-toronto/article12944497/ (accessed March 29, 2014).
[21] Ibid.
[22] Daniel Dale, “Ontario rejects Toronto’s call for supervised drug injection site,” Toronto Star, July 10, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/07/10/ontario_rejects_torontos_call_for_supervised_drug_injection_site.html (accessed April 1, 2014).
[23] Fantauzzi, Interview with Toronto Councillor Gord Perks on March 18, 2014, 20:29
[24] “No AIDS announcement during 'politicized' week: Ottawa,” CBC News, August 17, 2006, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/no-aids-announcement-during-politicized-week-ottawa-1.573667 (accessed April 2, 2014).
[25] Parliament of Canada, “41st PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION, EDITED HANSARD, NUMBER 003 CONTENTS, Friday, October 18, 2013” http://www.parl.gc.ca/housepublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=Hansard&Doc=3&Parl=41&Ses=2&Language=E&Mode=1 (accessed April 7, 2014).
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Paul C. Webster, “Canada proposes new legal hurdles for supervised injection,” The Lancet, October 31, 2013, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62216-3/fulltext (accessed April 7, 2014).
[32] Canadian Public Health Association, “Bill C-2: Let’s get serious about respecting our communities,” Volume 37, no. 4 9 Winter 2013/2014), http://cpha.ca/en/about/digest/37-4/12.aspx (accessed April 8, 2014).
[33] Dhillon, “Report pushes for supervised injection sites in Toronto,” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/report-pushes-for-supervised-injection-sites-in-toronto/article12944497/ (accessed March 29, 2014).
[34] Anna Mehler Paperny, “Ottawa, Toronto resist call for supervised injection sites,” The Globe and Mail, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-toronto-resists-call-for-superivsed-injection-sites-in-toronto/article4099713/ (accessed April 8, 2014).
[35] Tara Marie Watson and others, “Police Perceptions of Supervised Consumption Sites (SCSs): A Qualitative Study,” Substance Use & Misuse, 47, no. 4 (March 2012): 368.
[36] Ron Taverner, SUPERVISED INJECTION SITES: A Position Paper by Ontario’s Police Leaders, Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, http://www.oacp.on.ca/Userfiles/Committees/SubstanceAbuse/ResourceDocs/Supervised%20Injection%20Sites%20_%20Position%20Paper%20February%202012%20.pdf., (accessed March 29, 2014): 18.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Elaine Hyshka, Tania Bubela and T. Cameron Wild, “Prospects for scaling-up supervised injection facilities in Canada: the role of evidence in legal and political decision-making,” Addiction, 108 no. 3 (2013): 471.
[40] Ibid.
[41] Ibid.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Webster, “Canada proposes new legal hurdles for supervised injection,” The Lancet, October 31, 2013, http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)62216-3/fulltext (accessed April 7, 2014).
[44] AIDS Action Now, “The Conservative Party of Canada is bad for our health!” http://www.aidsactionnow.org/?p=1139, June 7, 2013 (accessed April 7, 2014).
[45] Fantauzzi, Interview with Toronto Councillor Gord Perks on March 18, 2014, 33:52.
[46] Ibid., 34:06.
[47] Ibid., 32:22.
[48] Gordon Roe, “Harm Reduction as a paradigm: Is better than Bad Good Enough? The Origins of Harm Reduction, Critical Public Health 15 no. 3 (2005): 247.
[49] Ibid.
[50] Michel Foucault, “17 March 1976,” Society Must Be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975-1976, eds. Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, (New York: Picador, 2003), 256.


Temporary Foreign Workers: What Canada Must Do To Protect A Vulnerable Labour Class

By Joe Fantauzzi

Key Findings and Recommendations:
Between 2003 and 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada jumped from 102,932 to 213,573 — a difference of 107.5%.

Inquests are mandatory in Ontario when an on-the-job accident kills a worker employed at “a construction project, mining plant or mine, including a pit or quarry”[19] — but not in the course of agricultural work.

- Effective collective bargaining must be extended to migrant workers by Parliament.

- Public health benefits must be extended to workers injured in the course of their work even after their employment contract expires.

- When an agricultural worker is killed on the job, migrant or not, an inquest must be held.

The increasingly integrated world economy moves much more than money. It moves people all over the globe. Writing about the structures that form the foundation of the world economy, Nandita Sharma tells us that “[d]espite the historical and contemporary reality that unfree employment relations are as global as capital, they continue to be regarded as peripheral to the capitalist world economy.”[1] I contend that fundamentally unfree employment relations have been historically, and remain, a foundational building block of the Canadian economy, specifically through the exploitation of migrant worker labour. I also argue that several legal and employment rights such as access to collective bargaining and the contemplative powers of the state via coroner’s inquests can and must be implemented to undermine this exploitation. To show this, I will first examine the situation for migrant workers in Canada. I will then broaden the discussion to explore how migrant workers are treated in some of the largest Western economies: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Ireland. Finally, I will explore several recommendations to undermine unfair labour practices by employers and the state endured by migrant workers.

Before I examine the current situation of some migrant workers in Canada and abroad, I will provide a brief discussion about definitions and parameters for this analysis. The terms “migrant worker” and “temporary foreign worker” are often used interchangeably here in the Canadian context. Both generally refer to workers, who labour outside as well as inside unless they are identified by a specific sector such as agriculture or domestic work. Also, this examination explores issues for documented migrant workers only. The Canadian province of Ontario is also a point of focus here as it is the location of the most number of migrant workers in the federal government’s Temporary Foreign Workers Program.[2] This analysis also assumes that a capitalist mode of production will endure for the foreseeable future in Canada.

The Canadian Experience
Migrant workers currently comprise a significant number of people admitted into Canada each year. The use of migrant worker labour in Canada is not a recent phenomenon; Chinese[3] and Sikh[4] labourers were admitted to assist in the construction of the trans-Canada railroad during the First National Policy of the 19th Century. Irish workers constructed major landmarks in Montreal such the Lachine Canal.[5] “Pick and shovel gangs” composed of Italians were common in Toronto’s construction industry after the Second World War.[6] And while the previous list is not exhaustive or even current, it reveals a pattern showing that for more than a century, migrants have been a significant source of labour in Canada. Many of those labourers sought to stay in Canada. Many of them eventually won citizenship.
Wikimedia Commons/Wierzba

In 1973, Ottawa moved to make the use of migrant labour more attractive to Canadian businesses and introduced the Non-Immigrant Employment Authorization Program, Nandita Sharma writes.[7] The conditions placed upon workers entering Canada under the program were arguably harsh. “The employer, location of employment, type of employment, condition of employment and length of employment must be prearranged and stated on the worker’s temporary employment authorization document.”[8] Workers could not change any of those conditions, she adds.[9] “Workers are told that they ‘must follow the terms of your employment authorization while in Canada. If you do not, you may be asked to leave the country.”[10]

In the current economic climate in Canada, migrant workers are typically grouped into a class dubbed Temporary Foreign Workers. The number of these workers entering the country is significant: 213,573 Temporary Foreign Workers entered Canada in 2012, the last year for which data is publicly posted on the website of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.[11] The highest number of migrant workers arrived in 2012. The country of origin for the largest number of migrants was the United States, followed by Mexico. Between 2003 and 2012, the number of temporary foreign workers admitted to Canada jumped from 102,932 to 213,573 — a difference of 107.5%.[12] In 2008, more temporary foreign workers were admitted to Canada than permanent residents.[13] The shift to temporary workers has been “dramatic” and there has been almost no public debate about the consequences, the Canadian Council for Refugees notes. “Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse because of their lack of status, their isolation and their lack of access to information on their rights, and because the Canadian and most provincial governments don't ensure monitoring of their workplaces.”[14]

The Temporary Foreign Worker program has been controversial on several fronts. Allegations that foreign workers fill jobs when Canadian workers are available, which violates the rules of the temporary workers program, have arisen.[15] As well, questions were raised about the conditions in which Temporary Foreign Workers are employed after 10 of 13 Peruvian migrants were killed in a van crash near Hampstead, Ontario in 2012.[16] Ruling the deaths were caused by driver error, the office of Ontario’s Chief Coroner refused to hold an inquest into the tragedy.[17] Along with shining a light on the circumstances of a death or deaths, inquests in Ontario employ a five-person jury, which “often makes useful recommendations that may prevent deaths in similar circumstances.”[18] Inquests are mandatory in Ontario when an on-the-job accident kills a worker employed at “a construction project, mining plant or mine, including a pit or quarry”[19] — but not in the course of agricultural work. That, however, does not rule out the possibility of the coroner’s office ordering a discretionary inquest.[20] In refusing an inquest into the death of the Peruvian migrant workers killed in the van crash, the coroner stated that such a probe would be unlikely to present recommendations to keep such a tragedy from re-occurring.[21] Aside from agricultural labour, the federal government also recognizes low and high skilled labourers and live-in caregivers (domestic workers) who can be employed where Canadian workers are not available under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The federal Canadian state has also intervened in the regulatory regimes in which migrant workers find themselves. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected an appeal[22] from the United Food and Commercial Workers union and farm workers that argued current wage bargaining practices in Ontario violates agriculture workers’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to join unions and effectively bargain in the same way other workers enjoy. The court’s decision also had important consequences for migrant workers, according to the union. The UFCW called the judgement “the latest chapter in a decades-long battle to provide statutory labour rights protection and collective bargaining for Ontario’s 80,000 domestic and migrant agriculture workers.”[23] The Canadian federal government has also drawn the ire of organizations that keep an eye on migrant workers. Included in the problems identified in a report card prepared by the Canadian Council for Refugees are: that the government has failed to follow up to ensure fair wage practises after migrant worker contracts are approved.[24] The government has also not developed “any strategy to address the problems related to housing for migrant workers, notably inappropriate accommodations and excessive rent.”[25] As well, unlike in previous generations, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program does not serve as a gateway to Canadian citizenship for low-skilled workers. The council notes in its report card: “The federal government offers access to permanent residence only to workers in the high-skilled streams of the (Temporary Foreign Worker Program), with the exception of Live-in Caregivers. The federal government has also put limits on some provinces’ initiatives to allow low-skilled workers to immigrate via their Provincial Nominee Programs by imposing mandatory minimum language requirements for applicants, as well as numerical caps.”[26]

A Few Examples from the United States and Europe
Discussions about migrant workers and the legal and political rights that should be afforded to them are not a recent phenomenon. Those discussions are however, intensified in an era of global capitalism during which labour attempts to flow as freely as capital. To provide context for the Canadian experience, this section will explore the situation of some migrant labourers elsewhere in the Western world. The experience of agricultural workers in the United States and domestic workers in Europe will be examined.

In his 1981 book, Ronald Goldfarb, who once monitored how well the United States Department of Labor provided government services to migrant and seasonal farm workers,[27] takes up the issue, documenting the history of exclusion such workers face from social benefits including worker’s compensation laws[28], minimum wage laws[29], and child labour laws at that time.[30] More than three decades later in 2013, Seth M. Holmes offers valuable context, telling us that racism and class continue to play a significant role in the division of labour in the contemporary American migrant agriculture sector. “In general in U.S. agriculture, the more Mexican and the more ‘indigenous’ one is perceived to be, the more psychologically stressful, physically strenuous, and dangerous one’s job. Thus where a migrant body falls on the dual ethnic-labor hierarchy shapes how much and what kind of suffering must be endured. The farther down the ladder from Anglo-American U.S. citizen to undocumented indigenous Mexican one is positioned, the more degrading the treatment by supervisors, the more physically taxing the work, the more exposure to weather and pesticides, the more fear of the government, the less comfortable one’s housing, and the less control over one’s own time.”[31]

Clíodhna Murphy addresses the vulnerability of domestic migrant workers in Europe. In France, the United Kingdom and Ireland many domestic workers are migrant women employed in middle class homes to perform cleaning, cooking and child care duties.[32] Murphy points to France as an example of a complex legal model that employs provisions similar to that of the 2011 International Labour Organization Domestic Workers Convention, which sets out a framework for basic employment standards and human rights for such workers.[33] French national labour standards work in tandem with private “collective agreements” that deal with specific employees.[34] Recently, attempts to create jobs in the domestic work sector in France have led to the creation of the “service cheque” which allows the employer “to pay, declare and make social security contributions for the domestic worker in a simplified manner and householders can also claim an income tax reduction or credit on the cheques.”[35] While the cheque is not a legal protection mechanism per se, it moves the conversation about domestic migrant workers from one of “a status relationship” to one of a “work relationship” ─ an agenda pushed by the International Labour Organization.[36]

In principle, the United Kingdom offers protection to domestic workers through “general employment law”[37] however, several exemptions are possible. These exemptions include but are not restricted to health and safety law and some law that deals with working hours.[38] Some domestic labourers in the UK are entitled to the minimum wage but “deductions may be made from that wage if domestic workers receive accommodation, reflecting the strong worldwide trend in favour of remunerating domestic workers in kind,” Murphy notes. “Most notably, the requirement to pay the national minimum wage is not applicable to domestic workers in situations where they live with their employer and are treated as a member of the family.”[39]

Murphy tells us that the Irish have struck a balance between the British and the French models. Ireland’s employment laws treat labourers in private homes the same as other workers and do not exclude them from any employment legislation, as is seen in the United Kingdom.[40] It is this lack of recognition that Murphy calls the “invisibility”[41] of the Irish domestic migrant worker. “Thus while domestic workers are treated as workers like any others, there is no attempt in the Irish legislative framework to recognize the problems inherent in applying both the content and spirit of employment protections within the private home or the specificity of the issues arising in the context of the employment relationship.”[42]

In a sense, migrant workers exist in a society that treats them as temporary sources of labour as just that — mere labour. This abject vulnerability is separate and apart from the intensified racism that they can face in times of economic downturn, in which a perceived “crisis” can be correlated to discriminatory behaviour by those who would mix nationalism, xenophobia and unemployment into a toxic brew, Étienne Balibar tells us.[43] In Canada, migrants are not afforded a vote, and in many cases, no inquest to keep their lives and the lives of their colleagues safe. The political economy to which many migrant workers are subjected results in hyper-exploitative social relations which function to serve the interests of private capital. Perhaps more concerning for Canadians is that the state has proven itself complicit in the facilitation of this exploitation. The practice also appears to be systemic in several of the largest Western capitalist nations including the United States and the United Kingdom. In order to reduce the real and potential exploitation of migrant workers, I offer several suggestions to improve the rights of migrant workers. Foremost, the basic human rights outlined in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families[44] must be respected by United Nations members such as Canada. As well, effective collective bargaining must be extended to migrant workers by Parliament. Also, public health benefits must be extended to workers injured in the course of their work even after their employment contract expires — which is not occurring in jurisdictions such as Ontario.[45] It would also be helpful to recognize specific migrant sectors in labour law in order to achieve closer oversight of companies who hire Temporary Foreign Workers and avoid so-called “invisibility.” Finally, when an agricultural worker is killed on the job, migrant or not, an inquest must be held. Farm machinery and farm working conditions can be just dangerous as those encountered in the course of construction and mining. To extend the benefit of an inquest to the families of a migrant worker killed would also send a message that the state cares about the human cost of inexpensive commodity production. Finally, barriers to permanent residency that target low-skilled workers, the likes of which are seen in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, should be eliminated.

Issues of employment and, by extension, class and race cannot be extricated from the political and legal rights of migrant workers in Canada and in many Western nations. These inequalities and inequities are real and form a core — both historical and contemporary — to the Canadian economy. The rise and normalization of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada by the federal government demands that the Canadian Parliament draft appropriate laws and regulations to protect such workers from exploitation. Ultimately, Canada has an opportunity to be a global leader on the issue of rights for migrant workers if it so chooses.

[1] Nandita Sharma, Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of ‘Migrant Workers’ in Canada, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 65.
[2] Government of Canada, “Canada – Total entries of foreign workers by province or territory and urban area,” http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2012/temporary/09.asp (accessed April 6, 2014).
[3] Collections Canada, “Building the Canadian Pacific Railway,” https://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/settlement/kids/021013-2031.3-e.html (accessed March 31, 2014).
[4] Sarjeet Singh Jagpal, “Becoming Canadians, Pioneer Sikhs in their Own Words,” Vancouver Historical Society, http://www.vancouver-historical-society.ca/PDF/BecomingCanadians.pdf, 19 (accessed March 31, 2014).
[5] Kathleen O'Brien and Sylvie Gauthier, “Montréal: Re-Imagining the Traces,”: The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 26, no. 1 (Spring, 2000): 28
[6] Franca Iacovetta, “Ordering in Bulk: Canada's Postwar Immigration Policy and the Recruitment of Contract Workers from Italy,” Journal of American Ethnic History 11, no. 1 (Fall, 1991): 72
[7] Sharma, Home Economics: Nationalism and the Making of ‘Migrant Workers’ in Canada, 104.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Government of Canada, “Facts and figures 2012 – Immigration overview: Permanent and temporary residents,” http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2012/temporary/07.asp (accessed April 1, 2014).
[12] Ibid.
[13] Canadian Council for Refugees, “Migrant Workers,” https://ccrweb.ca/en/migrant-workers, (accessed April 1, 2014).
[14] Ibid.
[15] Kathy Tomlinson, “RBC replaces Canadian staff with foreign workers,” CBC News, April 6, 2013, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rbc-replaces-canadian-staff-with-foreign-workers-1.1315008 (accessed April 1, 2014).
[16] Laura Carney and Canadian Press, “NDP wants an inquiry into the Hampstead crash,” 570 News, February 6, 2013, http://www.570news.com/2013/02/06/ndp-wants-an-inquiry-into-the-hampstead-crash/ (accessed April 3, 2014).
[17] Renata D'Aliesio, “Ontario crash that killed 10 migrant workers was ‘driver error,’ coroner says, declining inquest,” The Globe and Mail, February 4, 2013, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-crash-that-killed-10-migrant-workers-was-driver-error-coroner-says-declining-inquest/article8196281/ (accessed April 3, 2014).
[18] Province of Ontario, “Common Questions About Death Investigations,” http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/DeathInvestigations/CommonQuestionsAboutCoronersInvestigations/OCC_common_questions.html (accessed April 3, 2014).
[19] Province of Ontario, “Coroners Act,” http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90c37_e.htm (accessed April 4, 2014).
[20] Ibid.
[21] Laura Carney and Canadian Press, “NDP wants an inquiry into the Hampstead crash,” http://www.570news.com/2013/02/06/ndp-wants-an-inquiry-into-the-hampstead-crash/ (accessed April 3, 2014).
[22] Supreme Court of Canada, “Ontario (Attorney General) v. Fraser,” April 29, 2011, http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/7934/index.do (accessed April 4, 2014).
[23] United Food and Commercial Workers, “The Struggle Continues,” April 29, 2011, http://www.ufcw.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2340&Itemid=316&lang=en (accessed April 4, 2014).
[24] Canadian Council for Refugees, “Report Card: Migrant Workers and the Federal Government,” May 2013, https://ccrweb.ca/files/fed_report_card.pdf (accessed April 4, 2014).
[25] Ibid.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Ronald Goldfarb, Migrant Farm Workers: A Caste of Despair, (Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1981), viii.
[28] Ibid., 150.
[29] Ibid., 158.
[30] Ibid., 162.
[31] Seth M. Holmes, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bones: Migrant Farmworkers In The United States, (London: University of California Press, 2013), 95.
[32] Clíodhna Murphy, “The Enduring Vulnerability of Migrant Domestic Workers,” International & Comparative Law Quarterly 62, no. 3: 599.
[33] Ibid., 607.
[34] Ibid., 606.
[35] Ibid., 607-608
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid., 609
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Ibid., 610
[41] Ibid.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Étienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, trans. Chris Turner, Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities, (London/Brooklyn: Verso, 1991), 218.
[44] United Nations, “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families,” December 18, 1990, http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/45/a45r158.htm (accessed April 4, 2014).
[45] Nicholas Keung, “Migrant workers injured in farm vehicle crash lose bid to keep OHIP,” Toronto Star, April 6, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2014/04/06/migrant_workers_injured_in_farm_vehicle_crash_lose_bid_to_keep_ohip.html (April 6, 2014).


Ontario: A leading jurisdiction for intense, coercive neoliberalism

By Joe Fantauzzi

Global capitalism has liberalized incrementally since the end of the Second World War. As the Keynesian welfare state fell out of favour in the late 1970s amid a stagnating economy and rising government spending, a new business-friendly approach dubbed neoliberalism (literally, “new liberalism”), emerged and ushered in an epoch of devotion to market principles as the solution to what ails Ontario both economically and socially. The implementation of the Canada-US Trade Agreement in 1987[1], North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994[2] and the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995[3] were major landmarks in the process of market liberalization. However, the hijacking and crashing of commercial jetliners on September 11, 2001, introduced a major challenge to the world of liberal capitalism. The Great Recession, the first stages of which began in 2007, intensified pressure on the world economic structures — and by extension, those in Ontario. I contend that Ontario has been, and remains, among the jurisdictions at the forefront of a business-friendly neoliberal agenda in Canada, despite rising structural unemployment, major challenges in the core manufacturing sector and a drop to a so-called have-not province within Canada’s federal framework. I also argue that neoliberalism has become increasingly menacing through three successive governments since 1990, culminating in the arrest of more than 1,000 people during the June 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto. To prove this, I will first attempt to define neoliberalism and locate it as an economic and political movement. I will then explore several examples of economic behaviour in Ontario during the neoliberal period and uniquely neoliberal political policies implemented by three governments since 1990. A significant amount of time will also be spent discussing the coercive nature of neoliberalism in Ontario, specifically the explosion of policing budgets both provincially and locally in the post-September 11 era. Finally, I will analyze the consequences neoliberalism has held for the economy, the welfare state and those who find themselves in opposition to the model, and where that ostensibly places them in a province that shows no sign of rejecting such market-based values in the near future.

Locating Neoliberalism As A Political and Economic Agenda
Before examining examples of neoliberalism in Ontario, a framing of the discussion should be helpful. Here, neoliberalism will be seen to have its origins in the 1980s. The era will be generally said to begin with the election of United Kingdom Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979, become internationalized with the election of United States Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1980 and be spread to Canada upon the election of Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1984. Neoliberalism will be seen to be entrenched in the 1990s, especially in Ontario which forms the starting point of this analysis, and intensified after the terrorist attacks of September 11, lasting to the present day. Neoliberalism is understood here to encompass government policies of privatization and deregulation and a liberalized trade and financial environment[4], following the Washington Consensus.[5] Post-Second World War governments oriented toward a reduction of support for the welfare state, opposition — or even hostility — to Keynesian economics, a preference for capitalist market solutions and tax cuts while realigning spending priorities to include a heightened emphasis on security and policing and coercion techniques, will also be viewed as neoliberal.

Proponents of what would one day be called neoliberalism saw an opportunity in the crisis of stagnant growth, inflation (“stagflation”) and ballooning government deficits in the 1970s to push counter-Keynesian measures, which were backed by many members of the business community, Stephen McBride tells us.[6] The electorate was taken in by the new agenda and eventually convinced “that balanced budgets and sound finance would eventually restore a degree of economic security that inflation and declining real incomes had eroded.”[7] However, McBride also notes that with the benefit of time, it can be shown “that major problems of public debt occurred after the abandonment of Keynesianism and the adoption of neoliberalism.”[8] To this end, he points to neoliberal hallmarks such as high interest rates as “curing inflation by driving the economy into recession” and the accumulation of lower public revenues in spite of the fact that social spending had to rise[9] given the unstable economy.

Economics in Neoliberal Ontario
In the 1980s, as the foundations of neoliberal politics were being poured in Ontario’s governing bodies, the provincial economy was also undergoing major structural changes. This section examines three economic events in Ontario during the neoliberal period: a drastic drop in manufacturing capacity following deeper economic integration with the United States, structural changes in Ontario’s labour market and the transition of Ontario into a so-called “have-not province”, whereby it receives equalization payments from the Canadian federation. It is arguably helpful to understand Ontario’s economic challenges not only from the perspective of what is happening in the capitalist economy but also in the public sector; Ontario’s ability to influence or encourage neoliberal capitalism may very well be tied to its fiscal health within the larger Canadian context.

For analysis purposes here (the post-1990 period) it can be said that Ontario’s manufacturing sector has been a ship tossed on rough seas. The early 1990s were witness to a significant recession but also a developing of closer ties of the Canadian (and heavily Ontarian) economy with that of the United States. It is hard to determine exactly how significant the processes of rationalization and redundancy excising were on the province’s manufacturers because of that closer relationship, but it can be said that by 1995, that the Canada-US Trade Agreement (CUSTA), the predecessor to the North American Free Trade Agreement, was a factor in plant closures in Ontario. Plant closures spiked to the highest level in 1992.[10] When trade barriers fell with the CUSTA, “[p]lant closures occurred disproportionately among the previously highly protected manufacturing industries,”[11] Eugene Beaulieu tells us. Automobile manufacturing, a staple of Canada’s Second National Policy, has suffered tremendously and has been recently described by one auto sector analyst as being “dismal.”[12] The auto sector is important to Ontario, where there is a concentration of auto assembly plants, representing the most prominent global auto companies.[13] The obvious relevance of news of the decline of manufacturing, specifically in the auto sector, is that it is that sector in which full-time, low to semi-skilled reasonably paid employment, protected by strong unions, was traditionally located during the Second National Policy.

Despite layoffs and job losses associated with the closure of manufacturing plants throughout the neoliberal era, the province’s attempts to develop labour market adjustment policy through the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board in the 1990s (and even earlier through the Ministry of Skills Development) has been described as “wholly inadequate.”[14] This is a problem, since the private sector cannot be relied upon to pick up the slack, Thomas R. Klassen tells us. “…Ontario, as the manufacturing heartland of Canada, will remain under pressure to ensure that its workforce is competitive. Given the nature of the North American labour market, businesses will continue to under-invest in training, and look to government to furnish a trained workforce.”[15] These deficient responses, coupled with larger trends in the Canadian economy that have included “a decrease in the relative demand for unskilled labour”,[16] have come at the same time as higher structural unemployment levels — a connection Peter Kuhn and A. Leslie Robb call “obvious.”[17] There are obvious ramifications for workers associated with these tendencies in the market; specifically, that they serve to coerce workers from becoming too militant, lest they risk their employment.  As Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen put it in Persistent Poverty: Voices from the margins: “Rising unemployment and downward pressure on wages and working conditions make it harder for workers to find replacement jobs when their rights are violated, making it all the more difficult to leave substandard work.”[18]

Ontario’s economic woes have not been restricted to the capitalist sector. Directly connected to the decline of manufacturing, a rising Canadian dollar and the slowing of the Ontario economy, has been its receipt of equalization payments for the first time in 2009-2010, some analysts argue.[19] Ontario’s position as a so-called have-not province is particularly interesting given that it once was seen as the economic engine of the country — a province from which other regions depended to maintain equal standards of living. Ironically, given the embracing of neoliberal principles by all three major political parties, around the time that news emerged that Ontario would begin accepting equalization, the leader of the  Progressive Conservative Party blamed “tax and spend policies” for putting the province on the “welfare rolls of Confederation.”[20] As of this writing, Ontario continues to receive equalization payments.

Politics in Neoliberal Ontario
In the past 25 years, three political parties have formed government in Ontario: The Ontario New Democratic Party, the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. Each party has implemented neoliberal agendas of varying degrees during their time in government — despite traditional understandings of the parties as representing the interests of centre-left, centrist and centre-right to right-wing voters, respectively. This section will examine some of the neoliberal policies implemented by each party. It will also explore the class relations that neoliberalism has brought with it during the same time.

While the roots of Ontario’s neoliberalism can be traced back into the 1970s, arguably the death certificate was signed for Keynesianism in Ontario about two decades later. When the NDP formed the government in 1990, the party came to power on an agenda that included previously uncommon overt discussions about class and social justice, Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo tell us.[21] However, the NDP was dogged by a massive government deficit throughout its administration as well as a slowing economy that drove up unemployment rates. [22] These challenges resulted in the party shifting to a neoliberal plan (The Social Contract), which included slashing $4 billion in government spending.[23] Those on social assistance also gained the wrath of the NDP government and experienced a “crackdown” as concerns about welfare fraud reached a fevered pitch.[24]

If it was neoliberalism the people of Ontario wanted, they got it when they voted out the NDP and replaced the government with the Progressive Conservatives, led by Mike Harris. The Tories formed two governments, one in 1995 under the banner the Common Sense Revolution, and another in 1999. The PC Party led Ontario’s first openly, honestly and transparently neoliberal governments: public spending was gutted, those employed by the Ontario Public Service faced massive layoffs[25], deregulation was extensive[26] and the spectre of privatizing government services and public works haunted the corridors of power. More than 10,000 public workers were expected to lose their jobs[27] during the PC Party regime and a major toll road running through the Greater Toronto Area (Highway 407) was privatized for $3.2 billion for 99 years.[28] “Ministries were required to act as businesses, contracting out of service provision increased, and services were simply cut,” MacDermid and Albo note.[29]

When the PC Party was turfed from office in 2003, many may have expected a realignment of political priorities with the election of the Liberals. As far as governing experience, the Liberals had, at that time, most recently struck an accord with the NDP in order to implement their agenda in 1985. There was, however, was no shift away from neoliberalism with the election of the Grits. Instead, by positioning itself as a visceral alternative to the PC Party, it gained a certain amount of progressive street credibility, Kendra Coulter tells us.[30] The reality though, is that while the Liberals talked about collectivist principles, the party continued to “incorporate neoliberal terminology, corporate evaluative criteria, and a managerialist approach to government.”[31] Liberal Party neoliberalism was not simply ideological but also material, Coulter notes. The party did spend more than the Tories on areas such as “environmental protection, First Nations services, agricultural support, and housing provision”[32] but the size of the public service continued to contract under Liberal budgets and the Grits privatized health services such as optometry and physiotherapy.[33] “These individualizing forms of privatization contribute to both the ideological and material normalization of the commodification of public services, and the continual encroachment of neoliberal approaches in ‘softer’ forms, strategies that are common to Third Way politics,” Coulter notes. As of this writing, the Ontario Liberals remain the government in Ontario.

While the public sector has been the epicentre of major neoliberal integration, the private realm, such as those suffering from a realignment of government priorities and a capitalist market concurrently focused on austerity and cost-cutting, is where ideology meets tangible reality. During the neoliberal era, work has been organized so that it falls outside the legal apparatuses established to ensure fair and minimum employment standards in Ontario.[34] One example is the rising use of temporary foreign workers, who may be less likely to vocalize their opposition to unfair labour practices, lest they be fired and removed from the country.[35] With the loss or reduction in many cases of job training through provincial government service cuts, the burden falls on workers to fund their own retraining if they wish to switch careers[36] — which can pose a major problem if they are being underemployed and undercompensated. In Ontario, workers face a double-edged knife because if they lose their jobs they can only look forward to a comparative very low rate of employment insurance[37] while fighting to get back into a post-Fordist marketplace, which is focused not on mass production and mass consumption but specialization and niche marketing. As all of this has occurred, fewer than one in three (28%) workers in the province have been members of a union.[38]

The precarious nature of employment is not hitting everyone equally in Ontario, either: unemployment, underemployment and issues around fair compensation for work done have a racialized and gendered component in the province. Recent immigrants are less likely to find stable, full-time work and are more likely to be overqualified and underemployed, according to a 2008 Statistics Canada study.[39] As well, Carole-Anne Hudson has written that discussions around increasing the minimum wage have a disproportionate impact on women generally and even more so for racialized women in the province. “The impact of low wages on the health, well-being, and autonomy of women, especially lone-mothers and racialized women, is well-documented. Pregnant women may not have the resources necessary to take sufficient time to fully recover from child birth. Precarious work can cause these workers significant stress due to job insecurity, pressures from holding multiple jobs, irregular hours of work, access to safe transportation, and increased risk of illness and injury due to long hours of work, fatigue and poor nutrition.”[40]

Authoritarianism in Neoliberal Ontario
One of the most glaring characteristics of neoliberalism is the trend toward authoritarianism and a centralization of power. This tendency toward autocratic governance has not halted at Ontario’s borders —instead, Ontario has participated in the institutionalization of neoliberal authoritarianism. This section will examine two ways in which this authoritarianism has manifested in Ontario; namely, through a heightened state of state coercion used against residents of the province and a concentration of decision-making in the Executive Council of Ontario. 

Concurrent with the neoliberal period generally[41], and the aftermath of September 11, 2001 specifically[42], has been an intensified securitization inside states, Greg Albo tells us. “In Canada this combination of economic and geopolitical interests has produced an internal realignment of the state, with military and security structures absorbing new funds and resources,” he notes. In Ontario, this has arguably meant an increase in the relative strength and cost of policing and imprisonment — despite overwhelming evidence that actual crime totals and the rate of crime in the Ontario is either demonstrably dropping and/or is relatively low compared to other provinces. As of 2012, the year for which the most recent statistics are available as of this writing, crime reported to police in Canada was at its lowest rate since 1972 after hitting a high point in 1991.[43] That same year, Ontario had the lowest violent crime rate of all provinces and was one of only two provinces (the other was Quebec) to experience a police-reported non-violent crime rate below 3,000 incidents per 100,000 population.[44] Despite this context, funding for the provincial agencies that oversee policing and jails increased 43% between the years 2000 and 2011.[45]

In Ontario’s capital, Toronto, a metropolitan city of millions of people that is often pointed to as Canada’s hub of high finance, a similar scenario is playing out. The total number of Criminal Code offences reported to Toronto Police plunged between 2006 and 2011. The number of criminal offences between 2000 and 2011 showed minor peaks and valleys during the years before 2006, but the overall trend has been a drop in reported criminal offences by 16% in that time-frame.[46] What this dive in reported crime has not been followed by, however, is a drop in the budget for Toronto Police. Since 2000, the budget for Toronto’s force has skyrocketed by 62%.[47] The budget noticeably spiked after 2002, the first year for which a budget was approved for Toronto Police after September 11, and did not return to pre-attack levels as high policing budgets became institutionalized during the so-called War on Terror. This spike also came during a period of extreme economic volatility in Toronto. For example, the unemployment rate in Toronto rose from 6.8% in 2007 to 9% in March 2014.

Explicitly neoliberal governments of all political stripes in Ontario have employed varying degrees of authoritarianism. During the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s reign between 1995 and 2003, poverty protestors were among the targets of the government’s coercion machinery. In one instance, a group of about 1,000 activists affiliated with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP), fed up with the challenges of being poor in the province, marched to the Ontario Legislature with the intention of meeting with then-Premier Mike Harris. The marchers were denied entry to the building and a riot ensued after police used force to quell the demonstrators, which provoked them further, according to one report.[48] More than 30 people, including leaders of OCAP, were arrested.[49]

The bolstering of state coercion structures has not simply come about in isolation. Instead, it has been part of a wider trend, which has included a concentration of power in the Executive Council of Ontario, most often referred to as the Cabinet. Among the highest profile examples of this centralization of power was the way in which the provincial government handled the secretive passage of Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, a piece of legislation enacted in 1939 with the aim of safeguarding public works in times of war.[50] The regulation provided police working during the G20 Summit in Toronto on the weekend of June 26, 2010, broad powers to secure the summit site, search people, make arrests and imprison demonstrators at a controversial makeshift jail. Meeting behind closed doors in Toronto that weekend were the leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world. By the end of the summit, more than 1,100 people were arrested in what Ontario Ombudsman André Marin called the “largest mass arrest in Canadian history.”[51] Summit participants had agreed on a range of items including further liberalizing global trade and reducing the fiscal deficits of the G20 nations.[52]

A $1 billion price tag for summit security included the construction of a $9.4 million, 10-kilometer fence in downtown Toronto.[53] Marin’s investigation focused on the passage of O.Reg. 233/10 and he took great umbrage with the fact that it was approved June 3, 2010 — several weeks before the summit — by a five-person Cabinet meeting and signed by the Lieutenant Governor without any public debate. Marin assailed the regulation. “In fact, Regulation 233/10 was of doubtful constitutional validity. By creating security zones to bar entry and by authorizing arrest, it imposed definite limits on freedom of expression. It was therefore in prima facie violation of the Charter as a matter of law, likely in ways that are not constitutionally justifiable.”[54] Exacerbating the secretive nature of the regulation, formal notification of its existence was not made until the provincial Registrar was told June 14. It was posted to the province’s online e-Laws website two days later and appeared in the Ontario Gazette on July 3 — after its force had expired. This combination of in camera legislating and the mass arrests that occurred in its wake allowed the state to marginalize civilians twice: first, by excluding the legislature, the people’s representatives, from any debate on the regulation’s merits; and then, by employing the coercive powers contained within the regulation and Act against civilians in an attempt to ensure the success of the summit.

Neoliberalism is, first and foremost, a rejection of the collectivist tendencies fought for and won after the Second World War. It is a return to a scenario in which competitive appetites dominate, tremendous amounts of time and effort are spent ensuring that freer markets monopolize all discussion about the economy and those people who stand in opposition to that agenda are marginalized — by force, if necessary. That all three political parties which have formed governments since 1990 have implemented neoliberal policies reveals the degree to which the philosophy is engrained in Ontario’s contemporary political and economic milieus. There is an argument to be made here about whether Ontario has entered a post-democratic age, since no party currently likely to form a government explicitly offers an alternative to neoliberalism. Fantastically, neoliberalism, and the class relations and inequalities that come with it, has proven itself to be an ideology reinvigorated, not wounded, by the Great Recession.

The seemingly meagre approach Ontario is taking to encouraging competitiveness in the manufacturing sector is unlikely to be a match for the forces of disintegration, both vertical and horizontal, at the plant level. This will become a major issue if, along with low and semi-skilled work, major manufacturers, such as the automakers, continue cutting jobs in North American plants and moving them to low-wage zones elsewhere. Ultimately, manufacturing still needs to be done, it is just a question of where. Ontario may be left at the sidelines of the manufacturing game if it does not differentiate itself in the market somehow before the jobs are all gone.

As well, the government’s reliance on secretively approved militarized coercion to enforce a neoliberal agenda shows hallmarks of totalitarianism. It reveals that human bodies are still required to be brought into compliance with an agenda that demands tasks be performed — possibly against the best interests (systemic underemployment, high unemployment, stagnant wages, etc.) of those involved. Perhaps helpful here to understand why there is no political relief offered in Ontario from neoliberalism, are Giorgio Agamben’s thoughts on the politicization of bare life, which I wrench here toward an explanation for the rejuvenation of pre-Great Recession neoliberal power structures. Agamben writes in the context of the speed at which democracies turned into fascist regimes in the last century — but I argue elements of such forces exist now in Ontario: “Once their fundamental referent becomes bare life, traditional political distinctions (such as those between Right and Left, liberalism and totalitarianism, private and public) lose their clarity and intelligibility and enter into a zone of indistinction.”[55] This suggests not necessarily an elimination or transcendence of worker/capitalist class distinctions, which can be aggravated by intersectional identities such as gender and racialization, I argue, but instead two classes that overlay those traditional Marxian distinctions: those who are captured inside the neoliberal agenda and those who are outside — that is, those who must be brought inside. Those not captured by neoliberalism must be brought inside in order for those who control power (exercised clearly through the private accumulation valued in a capitalist mode of production) to maintain it. Among those outside Ontario’s neoliberal scheme were the more than 1,100 people arrested during the Toronto G20 Summit.

Few real gains on a collective or societal basis have been realized for Ontario under the banner of neoliberalism. Work has become more precarious for the working classes and governments are functioning as facilitators of a lean, mean market agenda that really serves few except the wealthy and powerful. Ontario’s position as a driving force of neoliberalism is also doing little to improve its standing in a broader federal context: the province, once seen as the cash cow of Confederation is now accepting equalization payments. Also, the coercive securitization of Ontario after September 11, 2001 has created an atmosphere of totalitarianism, epitomized by the mass arrest of more than 1,000 people during a closed-door meeting of the world’s 20 largest economies in 2010. It is clear that collective progress is not currently on the provincial agenda in any meaningful way and the lack of real choice at the ballot box leads to questions of in whose interests’ governments are working and whether political leaders can now be looked to for leadership if civil society wishes to walk off the well-worn path down which a neoliberal Ontario has ventured.

[1] Government of Canada, “Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA),” http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/us-eu.aspx?lang=eng (accessed February 28, 2014).
[2] Government of Canada, “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/nafta-alena/index.aspx?lang=eng (accessed February 28, 2014).
[3] World Trade Organization, “The WTO,” http://www.wto.org/english/thewto_e/thewto_e.htm (accessed February 28, 2014).
[4]Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press., 2009), 365.
[5] World Health Organization, “Washington Consensus,” http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story094/en/, (accessed March 1, 2014).
[6] Stephen McBride, Paradigm Shift: Globalization and the Canadian State, 2nd ed. (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2005), 96-97.
[7]Ibid., 97.
[10] Eugene Beaulieu, “North American Integration and Plant Closures in Ontario,” Canadian Foreign Policy, 8, no. 2 (2001): 36.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Dana Flavelle, “Auto manufacturing in Canada in long-term decline, report warns,” Toronto Star, April 18, 2013, http://www.thestar.com/business/2013/04/18/auto_manufacturing_in_canada_in_longterm_decline_report_warns.html (accessed March 12, 2014).
[13] Government of Canada, “Assembly Plants In Canada—2014,” http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/auto-auto.nsf/eng/am00767.html (accessed March 20, 2014).
[14] Thomas R. Klassen, Precarious Values: Organizations, Politics and Labour Market Policy in Ontario (Montreal/Kingston: Institute of Public Administration of Canada and the School of Policy Studies, 2000), 147.
[15] Ibid., 155.
[16] Peter Kuhn and A. Leslie Robb, “Unemployment, Skill and Labour Supply: Evidence from Canadian Microdata 1971-1991,” Transitional and Structural Change in the North American Labour Market, eds. Michael G. Abbott, Charles M. Beach and Richard P. Chaykowski (Kingston: IRC Press and John Deutsch Institute for the Study of Economic Policy, 1997), 73.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Jamie Swift, Brice Balmer and Mira Dineen, Persistent Poverty: voices from the margins (Toronto:  Between the Lines, 2010), 33.
[19] Lee Greenberg, “Growing equalization payments to Ontario threaten country: expert,” National Post, July 20, 201, http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/07/20/growing-equalization-payments-to-ontario-threaten-country-expert/ (accessed March 27, 2014).
[20] Ontario Legislature, “Orders of the Day,” http://hansardindex.ontla.on.ca/hansardeissue/39-1/l097.htm (accessed March 27, 2014).
[21] Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo, “Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right,” The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories, eds. Keith Brownsey and Michael Howlett, (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001), 184.
[22] Ibid., 186.
[23] Ibid., 187.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid., 191.
[26] Ibid., 191.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Ibid., 192.
[29] Ibid., 191.
[30] Kendra Coulter, “Deep Neoliberal Integration: The Production of Third Way Politics in Ontario,” Studies in Political Economy, 83 (2009): 195.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid., 201.
[33] Ibid., 202.
[34] Swift, Balmer and Dineen, Persistent Poverty, 33.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] Ibid.
[38] Ibid.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Carol-Anne Hudson, “Pink Wages and the Colour of Economic Exclusion: The Politics of Wage-Setting in Ontario,” The Socialist Project, March 20, 2014, http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/952.php (accessed March 29, 2014).
[41] Greg Albo, “Fewer Illusions: Canadian Foreign Policy since 2001,” Empire’s Ally: Canada and the Afghanistan War, eds. G. Albo and J. Klassen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 253.
[42] Ibid., 260.
[43] Samuel Perreault, “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2012,” Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics – Statistics Canada, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11854-eng.htm (accessed March 17, 2014).
[44] Ibid.
[45] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 1,” (attached).
[46] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 2,” (attached).
[47] Joe Fantauzzi, “Appendix 3,” (attached).
[48] “Toronto protesters say riot was a 'proud day',” CBC News, June 17, 2000, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto-protesters-say-riot-was-a-proud-day-1.199304 (accessed March 28, 2014).
[49] “More arrests over Queen's Park anti-poverty riot,” CBC News,  July 22, 2000, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/more-arrests-over-queen-s-park-anti-poverty-riot-1.233632 (accessed March 28, 2014).
[50] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act: Investigation into The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ conduct in relation to Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, December 2010, http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Resources/Reports/Caught-in-the-Act.aspx?lang=en-CA (accessed March 23, 2014), 9.
[51] Ibid., 25
[52] G20, “2010 Toronto,” https://www.g20.org/about_g20/past_summits/2010_toronto (accessed March 12, 2014).
[53] Ombudsman Ontario, Caught in the Act: Investigation into The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services’ conduct in relation to Ontario Regulation 233/10 under the Public Works Protection Act, 25.
[54] Ibid., 9.
[55] Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, eds. Werner Hamacher and David E. Wellbery, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 122.