JANUARY 21, 1996 – The hearings on the Ontario Tories’ Bill 26 (Omnibus) are being met with jeers, catcalls, pickets and protests.
January 19 in Hamilton, chanting and placard-carrying protesters twice brought hearings to a standstill. “Protesters chanted, ‘No more health cuts,’ and ‘Hands off health care,’ and carried signs that read, ‘popular democracy, not party dictatorships’.”
Even a cursory examination of the bill shows why there is so much emotion. The Tories’ presented the bill as if it were a little bit of housecleaning that would not need public hearings.
More like house demolition. The bill itself is over 200 pages long. It amends 47 different Acts on the books in Ontario. A compendium attached to the bill photocopies the pages of the Acts being amended. This compendium runs to about 2,225 pages. This monstrosity was supposed to have been passed without public hearings!
Here’s what the Tories wanted to accomplish with their little housecleaning.
Schedules F,G, H and I are the “health package” of the bill. They give the Health Minister the power to close hospitals if they deem it to be in the “public interest.”
Amendments to the “Private Hospitals Act” allow the government to revoke a hospital licence and/or reduce the level of government financial assistance to hospitals without notice. It further protects the minister and the cabinet from any legal proceedings that result from such actions.
The bill goes on to redefine the term “facility fee” to allow for an expanded use of user fees. It redefines the term “independent health facilities” to all such user-fee charging facilities to play a greater and greater role in the health care system.
Seniors and people on social assistance will have to pay increased deductibles for drug plans. Drug prices will be deregulated, something that has happened in no other province.
In amendments to the Health Insurance Act, all references to services being insured when they are “medically necessary” have been removed and replaced with “under such conditions and limitations as may be prescribed.” This will give the ministry greater leeway in removing services from health insurance coverage. Particularly at risk are the free-standing abortion clinics which only recently won the right to have their services covered by health insurance.
Schedule “J” effectively kills Pay Equity. It does this by ending the “proxy” method of pay equity as of January 1, 1997. The proxy method is vital to real pay equity. Some sectors of the job market – in day cares, nursing homes, etc. – are comprised primarily of women and are very low paid. Their pay can’t be compared to groups of men doing the same work, because by and large this work is done by women.
To get around this, pay equity legislation allowed for “proxy” comparisons – choosing a primarily male-dominated employment field requiring equivalent training, experience and skill, and comparing wages in those sectors to their “proxy” in the largely women low-paid job ghettoes. Without the right to make such proxy comparisons, pay equity becomes a meaningless law for approximately 100,000 women in Ontario.
Schedule M amends the municipal act and 12 other related statues. Most are designed to facilitate the privatization of utilities and to allow municipalities to charge user fees. Privatizations of local utilities used to require referenda. This will be done away with through Bill 26.
The final portions of the bill, in particular “Schedule Q”, comprise a broad-side assault on trade union rights and wages. In the event of an impasse in collective bargaining, arbitrators will be required to consider “the employers’ ability to pay” when they arrive at a settlement.
This is an extremely serious and damaging bill. With one hand, the Tories are ripping billions out of the system – $1-billion from support to public school boards for instance – massively reducing “the employers’ ability to pay.”
Then with the other hand, they are giving extraordinary new powers to arbitrators to say “sorry, we have to slash jobs and wages because the employer doesn’t have the ability to pay.”
It is for this last reason that anywhere from 20,000 to 37,000 teachers and supporters took to the streets of Toronto January 13. They were protesting the Tory cuts to education. In particular they were protesting the assault on trade union rights that the Omnibus bill represents.
Some on the march – called by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association – had voted Tory in the last election. But they had not voted for this – for billions of cuts to education and services, larger class sizes, fewer after-school programs, lower wages, attacks on union rights, and job losses.
The fact that Tory voters can become anti-Tory protestors is fantastic. We will need many more such protests if we are to stop the Tories assault on democracy, jobs and services.
© 1996 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.
 Ernie Eves, “Savings and Restructuring Act, 1996,” Pub. L. No. 26 (1996), https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-36/session-1/bill-26.
 Jim Poling, “Omnibus Bill Hearings End,” The Record (Kitchener), January 20, 1996.
 Canadian Press, “Angry Teachers Descend on Queen’s Park for Huge Protest,” Canadian Press NewsWire, January 13, 1996, http://search.proquest.com; Michael Redfearn, “News That Bleeds Sells,” The Record (Kitchener), January 20, 1996.