LEADER’S SPEECH TO PROGRESS SUMMIT, APRIL 1, 2016

Thank-you very much. Bonjour à toutes et à tous.

It’s great to be back at the Progress Summit!

Thanks to Rick and the entire team at the Broadbent Institute for doing all the hard work to bring us together this weekend.

And, Ed, thank-you for your vision of an Institute that doesn’t just inform debate… 

… but cultivates intellectual leadership in this country and helps to make us all better organizers, stronger activists, and smarter campaigners.

At the heart of the Institute’s mission is the belief that, as social democrats and progressives, we can and we must rise to the challenges that Canadians face.

We must step up. And offer smart, bold public policy solutions that get to the heart of the real problems of today.

 

And in doing that work, in finding new ways to tackle the challenges that we face, we must be guided by the very same values that Ed has spent his entire life fighting for… 

… And that have inspired so many of us to join him in that fight…

… The values of democracy, sustainability, and equality!

When those are the values that guide public policy, we know that governments can change people’s lives – For the better. 

Of course, the challenges we face – as Canadians and as global citizens – are daunting.

Climate change is happening fast. And the real injustice is that it will hurt the most vulnerable people and the most marginalized communities, if we don’t take the right kind of action. 

First Nations peoples, in a country and province of such wealth, continue to struggle just to survive, without safe drinking water, without necessary infrastructure and without adequate health care. And tired old jurisdictional disputes between governments serve as an excuse for the inexcusable fact that the Indigenous peoples of this country are living without the basics:  housing, education, health care, clean water, electricity, affordable food, economic opportunity. In Ontario. In 2016. 

And, when it comes to our economy overall, we can all see the deepening divide between those who get ahead – and those who are left behind. 

Income inequality is not just a problem in developing countries – or south of the border. It is a problem right here in Canada.

Just last year, the OECD reported that Canada has the highest rate of poverty for non-standard workers amongst all OECD countries.

And it is that challenge – The challenge of growing income inequality – that I want to focus on today.

Of course, we’ve all heard the same common refrain.

The nature of work is changing. The labour market is evolving. Employment is being transformed.

But, for too many people, that change is not change for the better. 

Workers who could once depend on a good job, are being forced to settle for part-time work or a temporary contract.

The kind of work that comes with no benefits. No sick days. No pension. No security. And no union.

I’ve always thought that the most important thing a Leader can do, is to put herself in someone else’s shoes…

… And that means standing in the shoes of the hundreds of thousands of moms and dads, here in Ontario, who are trying to piece together a life by working two or three precarious jobs.

People who are working more than full-time hours in two or more part-time jobs, and are trapped in a constant struggle. 

Always waiting for that call for a shift, always waiting for the next day’s schedule, unable to have any control over their lives and unable to build a better future for their kids.

Unable to even think about retirement.

And more often than not, they are working for a minimum wage that entrenches poverty instead of giving them the chance to provide for their family and themselves. 

The truth is that too many people are not being paid the decent wages they deserve, for the hard-work they do...

… Too many people go without the benefits they and their families need…

… And too many people are without access to time off when they are sick, paid or unpaid, predictable schedules, or decent paid vacation time.

It’s time to do something about it.

Il est temps d'agir. 

A few years ago, the Law Commission of Ontario said that at least 22 percent of workers are stuck in low-wage precarious jobs.

But in my home town of Hamilton, just 40 percent of workers actually have stable, permanent, full-time positions with benefits.

And across Ontario, between 2003 and 2011, the share of employees working for minimum wage more than doubled.

Nearly one in every ten workers is taking home a minimum wage that is simply too low to survive on, let alone get ahead.

Of course, we know who’s exploited the most. We know who is most likely to be a precarious worker.

It’s women.

Women have made up 70 percent of part-time workers over the past twenty years.

It’s racialized people and new immigrants.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Sheila Block’s work has shown that the share of racialized employees working at minimum wage in Ontario is 47 percent higher than for the total population.

And it’s people with disabilities, single parents, youth. People who’ve lost their good jobs, often in the manufacturing sector, and now find themselves too-young-to-retire but too-old-to-start-over.

These are the people who are, disproportionately, forced to work for low pay, minimal hours, and no certainty.

The explosion of precarious work over the last decade in this province is entrenching the very inequities that social democrats and progressives are committed to eradicating. 

Governments have the tools and the resources to step up.

They can help to lift people up. Make life better. And make sure that every person who goes to work can actually afford to pay the bills. 

But that takes real political will.

Years ago, before I entered politics, I was working as an organizer at a community legal clinic in Hamilton.

And the people who walked through our doors, every day…

… the people who needed someone to listen, needed someone to care, and needed someone to stand up and fight with them…

… were people facing all kinds of struggles

Trying to keep a roof over their head. Taking on employers who refused to help when they were injured on the job. Fighting to protect and improve the environment in neighbourhoods that had been forgotten by everyone but the people who lived there.

And more often than not, the problems our clients faced were just one aspect of the poverty, the discrimination, and the racism that they faced every day, as they went about their lives.

Twenty years later, I hear too many of the exact same stories. And too many of the exact same excuses about why problems cannot be fixed... and hope for so many people continues to dwindle while governments fail to act.

I believe, like you do, that when opportunity is out-of-reach for so many families… 

… when hard-working people have no hope of getting ahead because their wages are simply too low… 

… and when discrimination determines who gets ahead and who falls behind…

… as Joseph Stiglitz would say, that's the kind of inequality for which we all pay a high price.

So, the question today is not whether there’s a problem. 

Or whether something should be done about it.

Or whether governments actually have the power to make a difference. We know they do!

The real question is whether there’s the political will.

I wish I could be hopeful that the Ontario government's current review of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act will produce meaningful changes.

But a few weeks ago, here in Ontario, a Cabinet Minister got up during Question Period and, rather than addressing the scourge of precarious work, instead talked about what she preferred to call the "contemporary mobile workforce".

Comments like that worry me. We may be in for a rebranding, rather than the kind of fundamental change that is actually needed.

What we need is better protections for vulnerable workers, greater access to the benefits that everyone deserves, and meaningful reform to secure and enforce the rights of every worker.

But ultimately, a major factor in the solution to precarious work is clear.

Workers in low-paying jobs don’t need a new turn of phrase. They need a raise.

Toutes les travailleuses et tous les travailleurs méritent d'améliorer leur vie. Il est temps de les aider.

It’s time to raise the floor for every worker.

And it’s time for Ontario to join the growing ranks of jurisdictions saying Yes to a fifteen dollar minimum wage.

We’ve seen cities and states, south of the border, moving in this direction.

And we’ve seen the commitment that Premier Notley has already made. 

There’s no question in my mind, the time for talk is over.

It’s time for Ontario to show leadership and political will – and to make sure that no one working full-time is stuck living below the poverty line!

It’s time for a fifteen dollar minimum wage.

And if this Government won’t do it, then Ontarians will have the opportunity in two short years to elect one that will.

It comes back to the reason why we’re all here. And why we’re all committed to smart, progressive public policy. 

At a time when we face big challenges…

… when life is getting harder for people, instead of better… 

… and when people are losing hope…

… we need to prove that governments can make a difference.

Governments can do more than talk a good game.

Leaders can look people in the eye and make choices that actually change people’s lives – for the better.

We have the potential to build a future where no one is left behind. And where everyone can share in the opportunities we create.

It will take smart and bold policies.

But more than that, it will take genuine commitment to the values that we share.

The values that Ed has spent so many years fighting for.

And the values that are at the very heart of what progress means.

So let's leave this year's summit recommitted, enthusiastic, and ready to act on those values!

Merci beaucoup. Megwich. Thank-you very much.