Former Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada once made the observation that "Work is one of the most fundamental aspects in a person's life, providing the individual with a means of financial support, and, as importantly, a contributory role in society. A person's employment is an essential component of his or her sense of identity, self-worth and emotional well-being. Accordingly, the conditions in which a person works are highly significant in shaping the whole compendium of psychological, emotional and physical elements of a person's dignity and self respect." Although these words were written close to twenty-five years ago they fully capture the scope and importance of employment in Canadian society.
A lot has happened at Ontario's Ministry of Labour over the last week that offers an opportunity to explore some issues related to political will, governance, and the prevailing attitudes towards the regulation of employment in the political class in Ontario. Peter Fonseca, the former Provincial Minister of Labour, was replaced by Charles Sousa, in a rapid turn of events that took place in the hours leading up to the release of the Report and Recommendations to the Minister of Labour from the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety.
What followed were a series of articles in the media that explored the internal machinations within the provincial Liberal Party that led up Mr. Fonseca's forced resignation. It was reported that Mr. Fonseca had been unhappy with the labour file and was looking for a new position, but a move was thwarted when a backbencher turned down the Minister of Labour position. Premier Dalton McGuinty offered up the following quote about the accomplishments of the Ministry of Labour under Mr. Fonseca, stating "He has helped to double the number of workplace inspector, reduce the number of lost-time injuries in the workplace and increase the minimum wage" - just three minor accomplishments over the course of two years, it's no wonder that Mr. Fonseca would want out.
What this whole exercise highlights is the stagnation on the part of government in relation to the statutory regime governing workplaces in Ontario. There simply is no political will to address the rapidly shifting economic and social conditions relating to work arising out of the process of Globalization in any meaningful way beyond minor alterations to the window dressing. And while Minister Sousa seems highly capable and an accomplished individual, he's not the person one would pick if a government were considering actually addressing the myriad of outstanding issues relating to employment facing workers in this province.
With the Wagner model being outdated and unresponsive to the current realities of workplaces in Ontario and the statutory/common law mechanisms covering non-unionized workers being difficult to access for large segments of the population what we're facing in Ontario is widespread disenfranchisement and marginalization. You can see the spillover effects in other areas: income inequality is on the rise, a stunning increase in precarious employment, food bank usage soaring, and a palatable anger at the retreat of government from addressing difficult issues relating to public policy.
What I find most disturbing is the lack of engagement from politicians on these difficult issues, this cuts across party lines and the various levels of government. Not once have I heard a peep about income inequality, difficulties facing youth in today's economy, or the middle class is disappearing in Ontario. These are very real problems, but there has been an utter absence of dialogue on these and other terribly vital issues. This needs to change and soon.