Many of the Wynne government’s recent social justice initiatives have been portrayed by the opposition parties and in the media as politically motivated vote-buying which the Ontario economy can’t afford. In reality, those initiatives are part and parcel of a comprehensive “fairer economy” agenda which the government has been rolling out for the past three years.
That agenda is in fact a coherent response to an economy which, by most objective criteria, has become ever harsher for those lower in the income scale. Less than half of all Canadians now view themselves as “middle class”. The jobs of almost a third of Ontario workers are considered “precarious”. Roughly the same number lack health and dental benefits. Traditional “defined benefit” pensions are rarely available to new private-sector employees, and average hourly wages in Canada have barely budged in 40 years. The economy has been growing, but only those in the upper-income groups have benefitted.
While populist politicians love to blame freer trade for the loss of well-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs, workplace automation is the primary root cause. We’ve crossed the tipping point where investments in robots and automated systems already promise a significantly higher capital return than investing in hiring, training and maintaining workers. Hence, virtually all productivity gains accrue to those who already have capital. Stressed families have less time for their children, and can’t save for their education. The only real escape from the poverty trap for those children – post-secondary education – has become increasingly unaffordable, especially with job prospects and starting salaries on graduation giving little hope for ever paying off the resulting debt load. The coming artificial intelligence revolution can only exacerbate those disparities, suggesting an even more unequal future for Ontario with a permanent and growing underclass from which there is very little chance of escape for most.
Many conservative thinkers would argue that such consequences are the inevitable by-product of our market economy, with which governments must not tamper. A PC-led government would almost certainly favour tax cuts over social spending despite overwhelming evidence that “trickle down” has never worked and that such cuts further increase income inequality. Most Liberals, by contrast, view equality of opportunity and income redistribution to partially level the playing field as core governmental responsibilities. The current Wynne government is arguably the only one in North America which has not only recognized the above trends but has acted with an ambitious series of initiatives to ameliorate them. For more information on those initiatives, we invite you to view the following: