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June 28, 2012 - No. 39

Government Dismantles Public Accountability at Rapid Rate

Austerity Budget Adopted


Ontario Day of Action against the McGuinty government's austerity budget, Queen's Park, April 21, 2012.

Austerity Budget Adopted
Government Dismantles Public Accountability at Rapid Rate
Anti-Worker, Anti-Social Austerity Budget - Christine Nugent

Takeover of Public Authority by Private Interests
Composition of Jobs and Prosperity Council
Consolidation of Power in Premier's Office to Serve Privatization - Rob Woodhouse
Alternative Financing and Procurement Arrangements
Chamber of Commerce's Transformative Agenda for Ontario - Dan Cerri

Sell-Off of Toronto Housing
Province Gives the OK - David Greig

Toronto District School Board Cuts
Selling the School Yard to Fix the Roof -- An Unsustainable Path for Education Funding - Pritilata Waddedar

Further Attacks on Injured Workers
Crown Grants Owner Immunity in Swing Stage Workers' Deaths - Jim Nugent
No Jail Time, No Justice - Press Release, Ontario Federation of Labour


Austerity Budget Adopted

Government Dismantles Public Accountability
at Rapid Rate

The Ontario government's Budget Bill 55, the Strong Action for Ontario (Budget Measures) Act known as Ontario's Austerity Omnibus Bill, received Royal Assent on June 20 and became the new law of the land.

The developments surrounding the adoption of Bill 55 from its first reading on March 27 to the day it received Royal Assent show that the people of Ontario are totally marginalized by the current political system and this is a serious problem which they have to address. They exercise no control whatsoever over the decisions taken by the Legislature or the political parties in the Legislature. Once your vote is cast, you kiss good-bye your right to be informed and have a say over decisions which are taken. Not only does the Legislature not represent the interests of the majority working people of Ontario but neither do political parties over which even their membership and MPPs exercise no control.

Political parties are no longer "primary organizations" which link the citizens to the political power. This link used to take place by virtue of membership in riding associations which discussed policy to set the party's direction at a time when candidates and Members of the Provincial Parliament (MPPs) were beholden to party members because of the funds raised by the riding associations. A cartel party system has emerged where how parties function is all manipulated from on high. Secret deals are struck behind the backs of the people and nobody even knows what they are, let alone the considerations for these deals and who they serve. Despite this, the decisions which are taken by the Legislature affect the lives of the people in a fundamental way because it is their well-being which is being assaulted to pay the rich through all the privatization of the public monies and institutions.

The effects this Austerity Budget will have on Ontario will now begin to be revealed. We already knows its adoption reflects the growing disconnect between the wishes of the people for a pro-social program that provides their rights with a guarantee and the course of action taken by the Legislature and the political parties which are facilitating privatization in the name of austerity to pay down the debt and eliminate the deficit. Because of this fact, how to build the Workers' Opposition is of real concern to the working people. The working people must take political affairs into their own hands. A Workers' Opposition can only become effective if it is based on positions which the working people themselves work out to deal with the concrete reality they and the province face as a result of the McGuinty and Harper privatization agendas.

Ontario Political Forum calls on the working people to resolutely oppose the austerity budget and privatization agenda and go all out to resolve the crisis in a manner which favours them, not the rich.

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Anti-Worker, Anti-Social Austerity Budget


Ontario Day of Action, Queen's Park, April 21, 2012.

From the time the McGuinty government's Austerity Budget was first tabled on March 27, the government made it clear that the aim of the budget was to eliminate the deficit by 2017-2018 by cutting funding for education, health care and public services. Meanwhile, behind the rhetoric, everything is being privatized. Members of McGuinty's government are determined to impose cuts to public sector wages, pensions and benefits in a manner that hands over all of society's public assets to the rich.

When Finance Minister Dwight Duncan introduced his budget he referred to contract negotiations in the health and education sectors: "[I]f no agreement can be struck to protect Ontario's progress in education and health care, we are prepared to propose necessary administrative and legislative measures to protect the public from service disruptions." In this way, discussion on what it takes to protect the public systems of health care and education was eliminated as was any discussion on why defending progress requires attacking the wages and working conditions of those who work in these sectors.

The introduction of the budget bill in the Legislature came on the heels of the report of the Commission on the Reform of Public Services headed by banker Don Drummond. This report recommended the reduction of the public service by 2014 and the restructuring of the delivery of public services.

Enough members of the opposition parties, the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democratic Party, had to abstain or vote for the Bill to get the austerity budget through the legislature. The Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak, declared after the introduction of the bill, that they would vote it down as it failed "to rein in spending in order to balance the books and create jobs." That left the NDP to oppose it. The NDP said that they would not support the budget until they had the opportunity to consult with Ontarians. They subsequently cut a deal with McGuinty and enabled the budget to pass.

But the deal did not meet the demands of the opposition to the budget expressed by the working people all over the province. The April 21 Day of Action Against the Cuts at Queen's Park was attended by thousands of workers demanding the budget be voted down due to its attack on education, health care and social programs, pensions and the rights of workers to collective bargaining. This rally expressed the response of the teachers and education workers to McGuinty's threats to legislate wage freezes and other concessions. The demand of the teachers is for the government to negotiate, not dictate. The budget bill does not even begin to address these demands and, on the contrary, is sweeping legislation which will cause serious harm to the people's interests.

Following the workers' demonstration, the budget passed first reading through a deal McGuinty struck with NDP leader Andrea Horvath which included a surtax on incomes of more than $500,000, a freeze of corporate tax cuts, some funding for childcare spaces, a one per cent increase for people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program and transition funding for the horse racing industry due to the cancellation of the Slots and Racetracks program in the budget. The 17 New Democratic MPPs abstained allowing the budget to pass first reading.

McGuinty agreed to the new surtax on incomes stating that it would bring in $470 million to the government's coffers. These funds were not to be used to increase funding for social programs, McGuinty said. The proceeds from the new tax, for the next five years, would go toward eliminating the province's $15.2 billion deficit. The one per cent increase for people on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program will come "by finding savings in less important programs," he said. The additional assistance to child care operators will come from cutting programs from the Ministry of Education's existing budget allocation. This is not at all what the people of Ontario had in mind when they expressed their opposition to this budget.

On June 5, while not mandatory, the government agreed to send Bill 55 to committee and extend the Legislature. The initial omnibus bill contained 69 schedules or revisions affecting 81 pieces of legislation. Only five days were allotted for submissions to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. Eighty-seven verbal submissions were made by associations, unions, individuals and organizations that were each given 10 to 15 minutes to present. The transcripts of the hearing were not made available to the public at that time.

Voting on the bill clause by clause took place behind closed doors. The committee can have no more than 11 members from all parties with representation reflecting their current standing in the Legislature. It presently consists of nine members; four Liberals, three Progressive Conservatives and two from the NDP. Overall 415 amendments were made to Bill 55 with political parties joining forces in various combinations to either make changes or maintain the status quo.

Two conclusions can be drawn about these developments: we still don't know what this budget contains and what we do know ain't good.


Toronto, April 21, 2012

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Takeover of Public Authority by Private Interests

Composition of Jobs and Prosperity Council

Private interests creeping into the public domain are further revealing themselves in the constitution of the Jobs and Prosperity Council. As a Council created to deal with innovation, productivity and job growth, one would expect it would recognize public interests in its mandate and composition. Such is not the case in the current arrangements and serious discussion must take place on how to oppose these arrangements.

The creation of the Jobs and Prosperity Council was announced as part of the McGuinty government's budget bill; it is to review business support programs with an emphasis on innovation and productivity. Part of the Council's mandate is to reorganize the $2 billion in business support programs, which was a recommendation of the Drummond Report. As previously reported in Ontario Political Forum, billions of dollars in grants, forgivable loans and tax incentives are currently disbursed through some 44 funding programs across nine different ministries. The Drummond Report recommended streamlining these business support programs by focusing on those that create economic growth (see Ontario Political Forum, June 7, 2012 - No. 36).

In May, McGuinty appointed Royal Bank of Canada CEO and President Gordon Nixon as Chair of the Council. It signalled the growing politicization of private interests. More recently, the names of the members of the committees have been announced:

- Bonnie Brooks, President, Hudson's Bay Company
- George Cope, President and CEO, BCE Inc. and Bell Canada
- Linda Hasenfratz, CEO, Linamar Corporation
- Nitin Kawale, President, Cisco Systems Canada
- Genevieve Knauff, Owner, gck Consulting Ltd. and hme Enterprises Ltd.
- Darryl Lake, Founder and former CEO, Northern Centre for Advanced Technology
- Mike Lazaridis, Founder and Vice Chair, Board of Directors, Research in Motion Limited
- Kevin Lynch, Vice-Chair, BMO Financial Group
- Michael McCain, President and CEO, Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
- Joe Repovs, Founder and CEO, Samco Machinery
- Reza Satchu, Entrepreneur
- Jim Stanford, Economist
- Jeff Westeinde, Chair, Windmill Development Group

Concerns about the rate at which private interests are being directly embroiled in the political affairs of the province are clearly justified given this list of names. What does it mean that the government puts a council in place to deal with innovation, productivity and job growth and it is made up only of particular private interests (and a token economist who works for the Canadian Autoworkers Union) that will shell out money from the public purse to "business interests"? What accountability is there and where is the public voice in all of this?

Workers and people in Ontario have a right to know how innovation and productivity are being dealt with and to participate in these decisions especially because they influence job growth. They must do so on a new basis because the current arrangements do not guarantee their interests. They cannot have confidence in a council which represents private interests that are more and more showing only their ability to siphon money out of the economy. No to a council that is permitted by the government to take public money and give it to private interests! No to the political parties that only serve to prop up their business supporters! A new direction for the economy and politics are needed that uphold public right!

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Consolidation of Power in Premier's Office to
Serve Privatization

In early May, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed David Livingston as his Chief of Staff. Livingston is now the most powerful unelected government official in Ontario. This appointment is significant to the interests of the working class and people of Ontario. The appointment follows the trend of levers of government being handed over directly to minions of the financial oligarchy as in the case of TD banker Don Drummond and that of RBC banker Robert Nixon, but more importantly, it strengthens the trend toward increased privatization of government and the further concentration of executive power in the Office of the Premier.

Before the appointment, Livingston was the CEO and President of Ontario Infrastructure Projects Corporation (Infrastructure Ontario) and the Ontario Realty Board (ORB). The appointment to Infrastructure Ontario in 2005 and to the ORB in 2011 followed Livingston's 30-year career at the Toronto Dominion Bank, where he eventually became Executive VP of Corporate Affairs.

Infrastructure Ontario was created in 2005 as a government-owned corporation and Livingston was the founding President and the first CEO. At the same time, Tony Ross was appointed the first Chair of the Board of Directors. Ross left his job as Vice-Chair of the Board at financial management firm Merrill Lynch to work with Livingston in setting up Infrastructure Ontario.

According to a government press release at the time, the mandate of Infrastructure Ontario was to implement private-public partnerships (P3s) which the government calls Alternative Financing Procurement (AFP). The press release estimated that $30 billion in AFP infrastructure projects would be put in motion by Infrastructure Ontario. It described AFPs as "one of the strategies that the government will use to finance and construct some of the larger infrastructure projects -- particularly health care facilities. With an AFP project, the construction work is financed and carried out by the private sector, which is responsible for ensuring on-time and on-budget project completion."

When it was created, Infrastructure Ontario was also handed control of the Ontario Strategic Infrastructure Financing Authority (OSIFA), a government body that provides Ontario municipalities, universities and other broader public sector entities with access to low-cost and longer-term loans to build and renew public infrastructure. Previous to the handover to the corporatized Infrastructure Ontario, OSIFA was operated by public officials as part of government services. Legislation has put OSIFA under direct control of Infrastructure Ontario and its mandate to organize public projects as private AFP deals, which means that money will only be available to broad public sector entities on the basis of AFPs.

Within a month of Livingston's appointment, the government announced the launch of a $1.5 billion AFP project to extend the toll road Highway 407, which Livingston had obviously been cooking up before becoming Chief of Staff of the Premier's Office. Livingston's appointment is clearly part of an all-out offensive by the government on the question of privatization in the broad public sector. It sheds light on the context in which the McGuinty government put forward the privatization measures in Schedule 28 of the budget implementation bill. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is sticking to his story that he "only" meant to privatize Services Ontario, but the overall picture emerging is more like the slogan of the hooligan Ford regime in the City of Toronto to "sell everything that isn't nailed down."

The appointment also speaks to the issue of extending the executive power of the Premier and Cabinet to the full extent enabled by Ontario's archaic constitutional arrangements. Livingston's expertise at Infrastructure Ontario and the ORB was in removing important functions related to the economy from the hands of civil servants and putting them into the hands of corporatized enterprises linked directly to the political office of the Premier. According to press reports, the first thing Livingston did after his appointment was to reorganize the Premier's Office along corporate lines, with himself as CEO and McGuinty as Chair of the Board. Several positions were either eliminated or reorganized to fit into a more hierarchal corporate structure. The ground is prepared for greater concentration of power over public affairs among a very small gang of bankers headed by McGuinty.

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Alternative Financing and Procurement Arrangements

One of the main aspects of Public Private Partnership (P3) arrangements, or Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFPs) as they are called in Ontario, is a bookkeeping fraud that reduces the debt carried on the government's books. A hospital can be built and the government can say to bondholders, "See, that hospital debt is carried by the finance/build/maintain consortium that is operating the project." This gives the government capacity to borrow more money for handing over to the rich and to borrow to pay the interest on its other outstanding debts.

This bookkeeping fraud is costly to the public interest, either in the form of user fees collected by the consortium or in long lease-back arrangements which are paid from government revenues. For the finance/build/maintain (and sometimes finance/build/maintain/operate) consortia these are great deals. They include profits from design and construction, from debt financing (usually at a higher rate than the government bond rate), from maintenance and sometimes from operating. AFPs also include profits from equity ownership, a claim made by the consortia as the "owners" of the project until the government finishes paying the lease-back arrangements in the contracts.

Engineering/construction monopolies and financiers have always made profits on public infrastructure projects even before the P3 schemes were developed. With AFP arrangements, there is an additional profit gleaned from imposing an additional layer of ownership equity laid over the whole project and along with it a claim on the project for equity ownership at the going rate of return. Although arrangements are secret, it is known from other situations where rates of return on equity are recognized by government, this ownership equity amounts to between 9-14 per cent. To justify this extra skinning of the public, the myth is floated that there is a "risk" associated with the projects that the owners of the project need to be compensated for. Whenever there have been problems with P3 projects anywhere in the world, governments have always stepped in with a bailout.

The AFPs are organized by Infrastructure Ontario or other government entities set up as corporations. This enables the government, particularly the Premier and the Cabinet, to operate these corporatized government bodies in secrecy under the fraud of "commercial confidentiality" since they allegedly involve "competitive bidding." This not only prevents public oversight of important projects involving billions of dollars but also serves to strengthen executive power at the expense of the Legislature while the electorate becomes even more marginalized from decision-making. Important economic decisions are made by corporatized entities based on capital-centred outlooks without either the workers, who provide the labour to build and operate projects, or the people who have to pay the freight, having any say on anything.

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Chamber of Commerce's
Transformative Agenda for Ontario

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has released their "economic vision for Ontario" in a report entitled "Emerging Stronger: A Transformative Agenda for Ontario." The report was developed in partnership with the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto and Leger Marketing. The report is a result of consultations among government, business and other organizations at the Ontario Economic Summit held on November 21-23, 2011.[1] Much of the report is based on surveys of business leaders who participated in the Summit.

The report begins on the basis of the global economic downturn and argues that Ontario and Canada weathered the downturn and must now prepare for a transition: "we must prepare for even greater competition from our international peers, deepen collaboration globally, and identify and invest in Ontario's competitive advantages."

The report identifies five areas as top priorities as follows:

1. Fostering a culture of innovation and smart risk-taking in order to become a productivity leader.

2. Building a 21st century workforce through workplace training, utilizing newcomers' skills, and apprenticeship reform.

3. Restoring fiscal balance by improving the way government works.

4. Taking advantage of new opportunities in the global economy by enhancing linkages with the U.S., leveraging newcomers' networks, and trading more with the Block Trade at Index Close (or "BIC" trading) and other emerging economies.

5. Identifying, championing, and strategically investing in our competitive advantages in the global economy.

Attention should be paid to the priorities set out by the Chamber as they reveal the intentions that private interests have for Ontario and the rest of Canada. For example, the report says that "business and government sectors must work together to address current challenges and create a business environment," and that workforce training needs to be "client-centred." It also calls for public sector wage constraint, "designing Canada's immigration policy with Ontario's long-term economic interests in mind" and for investments in competitive sectors including the "blue economy" (water technology firms).

The Chamber's vision for Ontario and the rest of Canada is clear: all aspects of society must be turned over to business interests so that they can remain competitive which means that they can make maximum profit. These include government legislation, education and other social programs, natural resources, infrastructure and people in the form of a skilled and trained workforce paid for through public funds. The vision is another example of the demands of private interests to have their interests set as the agenda for the day. The Chamber's report reveals that these demands are becoming sharper every day. They represent serious concerns for the effort to organize society in a human-centred way.

The report advances the argument that the interests of businesses are synonymous with the interests of the people of Ontario: "many Ontarians are concerned about the future of their businesses, families, and livelihoods." Discussion should take place on whether workers and people in Ontario share the economic vision of the Chamber of Commerce. Will handing over more public assets to private interests so that they can make more profits benefit those who work and live in Ontario? What do history and the current conditions that workers face say about such a vision?

Note

1. For more information on the summit including its agenda and participants, visit http://www.occ-oes.com/summit-2011-agenda-tab/.

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Sell-Off of Toronto Housing

Province Gives the OK

On June 13 the McGuinty government gave its approval to the Ford administration plan to sell 65 single Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) homes. In the wake of a letter from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne reversed her previous decision to delay the sale until after a study of the proposed sale of another 619 single-family TCHC homes. The province has authority over most of these homes because they originate from Premier Harris' download of Ontario Housing about 15 years ago.

The Ford regime justifies the sale on the basis that the TCHC lacks funds to repair its units in apartment buildings and housing projects and that the single-family homes are a luxury that should be sold to finance the maintenance backlog. It then portrays opposition or delays to the plan as contributing to the suffering inflicted on tenants whose units are in need of repairs. The TCHC has been a Ford regime target since the beginning of its term and in neoliberal style, it favours selling it all off and replacing it with rent subsidies to landlords, among which would be some very large corporations. TCHC has about 160,000 tenants and its waiting list is 80,000 and many years long.

Selling off these 65 homes, 64 of which are vacant, and then the other 619, will prolong the unacceptable situation of those on the waiting list. The repair backlog is likewise unacceptable, but instead of the various levels of government allocating the necessary funds, the plan is to cannibalize the institution, selling off stock to fix the remainder. The view that such single units are a luxury ignores the needs of larger families and holds that the poor only deserve the minimum. The idea that there is no other source of funding for the TCHC repairs simply reflects the priorities of the anti-social elements in power: paying the rich in various ways instead of guaranteeing people's right to housing.

The TCHC crisis of disrepair and unfulfilled need exists in this society where housing is almost completely a matter of tremendous profit-making on the basis of building and offering existing housing according to ability to pay rent or purchase, which usually means the ability to borrow and pay interest to private financial institutions. Considering the existing housing stock, the construction taking place and the existing potential in human and material forces, the capacity to provide adequate housing for all is obvious. That tens of thousands of people nevertheless lack proper housing and many are even homeless is a telling indictment of the system in which we live.

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Toronto District School Board Cuts

Selling the School Yard to Fix the Roof --
An Unsustainable Path for Education Funding

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has approved a staff plan to create an inventory of school yards which can be carved up and sold to private developers. The TDSB staff plan is for 100 parcels of development land to be severed from the TDSB's 600 schools to generate $100 million to cover building maintenance costs not funded by the Ministry of Education.

Some trustees strongly objected to the plan because it had been worked out secretly by TDSB staff without any consultation with the schools and the communities involved. Other trustees said that consultation was not an option because the communities would reject the scheme. According to media reports, Trustee Gerri Gershon said the communities involved were not consulted because "communities will never be onside with land severance".

Communities have good reason to not be onside with land sales by TDSB, or with its practice of closing and selling schools either. Schools and school properties are unique public assets which are highly valued in every community. People in these communities see selling off school board assets as a short-sighted, anti-social policy that harms the communities and is not in the general public interest.

By design, Toronto's schools are located in every neighborhood within a child's walking distance of every home. School yards are very important to people in communities, especially in communities where there are no other recreational areas or parks children and youth can access. Closing and selling schools when there is a temporary low in the population of school children in an area is also unacceptable. Closing local schools increases the problems of working people who are raising children. People can also see that such conveniently located public buildings could be used for many purposes to improve the communities, such as public day care, public health centres for seniors and others, adult learning centres, public long-term care homes and youth centres.

The short-sighted, anti-social policy of closing schools and otherwise cannibalizing school board property is a direct result of the Ontario government's underfunding of schools. The school lands will be gone forever but this one-time sell-off of assets won't hold off the TDSB maintenance problem for long. Revenue from school yard sales are expected to produce only enough revenue to cover three per cent of the TDSB's estimated $3 billion in unfunded maintenance liabilities. School buildings in need of repair are one of many such unfunded liabilities piling up throughout the social sector as the post-war Ponzi scheme of funding social spending through high personal taxation and deficit financing collapses.

Ontario Ministry of Education regulations set no minimum size for school yards and permit school yards to be sold off to cover building maintenance. Ministry funding formulas also blackmail school boards into selling off schools which the Ministry deems to be "under used" by withholding funding to school boards for required new facilities until the designated schools are closed. Ministry regulations provide only 30 days for closed schools to be channelled into another public use before they can be sold to private interests, an impossibly tight deadline that ensures privatization of the assets.

Both the TDSB and the Toronto Catholic District School Board have accommodated themselves to this underfunding by setting up real estate management arms. The TDSB is one of the city's largest property managers with 2.6 million square feet of space leased to private interests. School board property managers make public property available to private interests through a combination of outright sales, land-lease deals and long-term leases. As well as schools being handed over to property developers and land speculators, schools are also being captured by private long-term care businesses, private child care businesses and private school operators.

The McGuinty government is okay with the anti-social outcomes of its underfunding of education because it is following the path blazed by the Mike Harris regime and characterized by the Rob Ford hooligans as "selling everything that isn't nailed down." Degradation of public services and allowing public assets to fall into disrepair is a step, an important step, in the process of privatizing government services and property. Canada Post is one of many examples where this modus operandi has been used.

The closure of Earlscourt School is an example from the TDSB which shows where the trend of underfunding education leads. Earlscourt is one of the jewels of the TDSB. It is a 64,000 square foot school on 4.5 acres of land at St. Clair and Dufferin, one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Toronto. It was closed and handed over to Hudson College, an international K-12 private school which charges students $14,000 a year in fees and much higher fees for international students who make up most of the student body. Public assets are serving private profit for the rich from the provision of basic human services. Anyone who thinks the public school system is exempt from this trend is being naïve.

Struggles parents and communities are waging against the degradation of school services and the deterioration and privatization of school board assets are totally just and part of the resistance to the anti-social offensive of the rich. The demand of parents to have a say on selling off community school yards and closing schools is also part of the struggle against political arrangements which marginalize people from decision-making on issues that affect their lives and is part of the striving of people everywhere for empowerment.


Earlscourt Public School, which has been converted to a private school, Hudson College,
for kindergarten to grade 12. It charges minimum fees of $14,000 per year.

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Further Attacks on Injured Workers

Crown Grants Owner Immunity in
Swing Stage Workers' Deaths


January 7, 2010 vigil for the swing stage workers killed and injured at a Toronto highrise.

Court proceedings during the past two weeks have revealed that the owner of the company responsible for the deaths of four workers and the maiming of a fifth worker in the collapse of a swing stage on Christmas Eve, 2009 has made a deal with the Ontario Department of Labour and Crown Prosecutors absolving him of criminal responsibility. In the deal, the Crown Prosecutor waived criminal negligence causing death charges against the owner of Metron Construction, who instead entered a plea of guilty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and was fined. The fines will total $90,000, with a fine of $22,500 each on four counts of violating the OHSA.

According to press reports, the reason the Crown Prosecutors withdrew the criminal charges against the owner was "because they believed there was no reasonable chance of conviction." This explanation was given by the Crown despite the admission by the owner that he was responsible for not ensuring that workers were using fall protection, for not ensuring that the swing stage that collapsed had been safely maintained and for multiple violations of 61 safety regulations that contributed to the deaths and injuries of the workers.

If there is "no reasonable chance of conviction" in such a slam-dunk case, it shows that owners and directors of corporations continue to enjoy personal immunity from prosecution under the criminal code. It also reveals that the 2004 amendments to the Criminal Code (Bill C-45), the Westray Bill, have not changed a thing. The owner/director of the company responsible for the deaths of four construction workers in 2009 has been granted the same personal immunity as the owners and directors of the Westray Mine, who were never held responsible for their role in the deaths of 26 Nova Scotia coal miners in 1992.

As a corporate "legal person," Metron had also been charged with four counts of criminal negligence causing death and one of causing bodily injury and was convicted. This is the first time a corporation has been criminally convicted in an industrial death in Ontario. Metron's lawyers and the Crown worked out a deal for a $1 million fine as the corporation's criminal penalty, separate from the fines against the owner. It is not known if Metron has insurance coverage or will be able to escape payment through bankruptcy or other corporate strategies.

With the owner/director of Metron let off the hook, a fine was the only penalty that could be given to Metron. Despite being a "legal person" a corporation of course can't go to jail. A penal sentence on a corporation would have to be served by the human persons with liability for the corporation, the owners and directors. Two management employees of Metron are still facing criminal charges for their role in the deaths and injuries, but these are personal charges and the outcome won't affect Metron.

Thousands of corporate lawyers have been watching the Metron case. There has been only one other conviction for criminal negligence causing a worker's death since the Westray Law, a conviction for the death of a worker in Quebec. But that case didn't involve a corporation in the way the Metron case does. The courts have now sent the message the corporate lawyers wanted to hear, that it is business as usual regarding the deaths and injuries of workers.

The Metron case tells corporations that deaths and injuries inflicted on workers can continue to be calculated into the cost of doing business as in the past. Even in cases of glaring guilt and monstrous proportions, as in the 2009 swing stage tragedy, the human representatives of corporate entities, the owners and directors, will not be held to personal account for crimes resulting in the deaths and injuries of workers.

Workers also received a message from the Metron case court proceedings, that workers' health and safety is in their own hands. Corporations continue to refuse to put the health and safety of workers at the centre of production and the government is not holding employers to account for the injuries and deaths they cause at the workplace.

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No Jail Time, No Justice

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) expressed frustration that Metron Construction boss Joel Swartz won't be facing jail time for the deaths of four workers and serious injury to another. While applauding the historic conviction of the company -- the first in Ontario to face conviction for criminal negligence -- the OFL made it clear that the $1-million fine sought by the prosecution doesn't deliver sufficient justice to the victims and their families.

"How many workers need to die before a boss is put behind bars?" demanded OFL President Sid Ryan. "The Company pleaded guilty in the worst construction accident in Toronto in fifty years, yet the owner of the company is still a free man. It makes no sense to me that the person who profited most from risking the lives of workers isn't being held to account."

The OFL launched its "Kill a Worker, Go to Jail" campaign shortly after the Christmas Eve tragedy in 2009 that shocked workers across the country. The collapse of a swing stage at a west Toronto high rise resulted in five workers plunging 13 stories during construction repair. The OFL's campaign called for the vigorous use of the Criminal Code of Canada provision that enables the prosecution of corporate executives, directors and managers who act wrongfully or negligently.

In response, the Ontario government created an Expert Panel on Workplace Health and Safety and launched a province-wide review that resulted in significant amendments to Ontario laws that were designed to prevent similar tragedies in the future. However, the OFL learned this week that while Metron's President and sole director pleaded guilty to four breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Crown had dropped the criminal charges against him. A joint submission by the Ministry of Labour and defense council for fines of $22,500 for each count is currently being reviewed by the presiding judge. Preliminary hearings for the criminal charges against senior Metron officer and site project manager Vadim Kazenelson are currently underway.

"Last year alone, 436 workplace accident and occupational disease fatalities were reported in Ontario and over 240,000 injury claims were filed. This carnage in the workplace is leaving too many grieving families," said Ryan. "Unless negligent employers face jail time, they will simply be able to buy their way out of responsibility. And, write off any potential fine as the cost of doing business. Without full justice under the law, workers will continue to lose their lives while their employers turn a profit."

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario.

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