Ontario Premier Doug Ford was busy last week, cutting three important watchdogs — environment, French language services, and children and youth advocacy — in his attempt to balance the budget.
Before the work week was over, the party he represents threw one more marginalized group under the bus for good measure — the transgender community. The element these groups all have in common is their reliance on the Ontario government’s care and protection.
With these swift financial slashes and pervasive archaic attitudes spilling once again into the political realm, Ford and the Ontario PCs are striking those they were elected to protect.
Fewer watchdogs means less transparency
These short-sighted and callous decisions, targeting some of the most vulnerable and marginalized minorities in Ontario communities, should be setting off shockwaves across the country.
While some are insisting that these decisions are mere cost-saving measures and that the responsibilities of these three watchdogs will be folded into the duties of the Ontario’s ombudsman and auditor general, Ontario voters should not be fooled.
Fewer watchdogs means less transparency, and less transparency means less government accountability.
The issue of environmental protection should be on our radar, given what we know about the climate crisis. Moreover, the annual report from the just-eliminated watchdog shows an alarming amount of pollution in Ontario’s water systems because of long-standing government inaction.
This is absolutely not the time to be slashing environmental budgets, but to be increasing them. Failing to do so makes us all more vulnerable to the consequences and effects of climate change and pollution.
Also, if I had to think of a department that dealt with society’s most vulnerable, I would be hard pressed to think of a watchdog more in need of more attention and additional funding than one that investigates the ill-treatment of children in the child welfare system.
The Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth has a mandate to provide an independent voice for children and youth, including First Nations children and those with special needs. The idea that kids with absolutely no one in their corner will fall through the cracks because of lack of funding, lack of access to services like desperately needed mental health help, should make everyone very angry. It is truly unthinkable that savings are taking place on the backs of the most vulnerable among us.
Franco-Ontarians lose big in budget cuts
Ford’s government has eliminated the French language commissioner position and halted the development of a French-language university.
To English-speaking Ontarians or Canadians at large, that might not seem like such a big deal. But Ontario’s French-speaking community has been fighting for generations against assimilation, which is government-enforced in some cases. They also have a legal (and moral) right to speak, preserve, and maintain their language and culture.
The development of a French-language university has long been a dream for the community. While the news has made major headlines in Quebec, it has barely been on anyone’s radar in English Canada. This is hardly a partisan or a federalist/separatist issue and should concern all Canadians who believe in minority rights and the protection of a community’s language and culture.
It should also concern those who pine for a united country, because decisions like these are detrimental to language relations in Canada.
Identity should not be up for debate
While Ford targeted children and a linguistic minority, his party set its sights on transgender people.
At their convention last weekend, Ontario PC Party members approved a resolution to recognize gender identity as a "liberal ideology" and remove it from Ontario's sex-ed curriculum, proposed by controversial former Tory leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen. Ford has since pledged to stop the motion. But with Ford already rolling back sexual education to a curriculum from the 1990s, there’s little reason to think his goal here is to protect the province’s transgender population.
Rejecting someone’s gender identity serves absolutely no purpose other than to further isolate and harm those who are only asking to be accepted as they are. A person’s existence and identity should not be up for debate or discussion. Trans children who don’t receive support from the people around them and their community are 14 times more likely to attempt suicide and commit self-harm. They are also repeated targets of discrimination and bullying. According to the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights organization for LGBTQ Americans, there is an “epidemic of violence” against transgender people, and young transgender women of color especially face obstacles in their daily lives.
Transphobia is responsible for the deaths and discrimination of so many people who want to live their lives on their own terms and deserve dignity, respect, and equal rights. It costs absolutely nothing to refer to someone with their chosen pronouns and acknowledge them as how they want to be seen, and denying their existence is not only purposeless and destructive. It’s cruel.
The fact that this was even up for debate within the ranks of the Ontario PC Party speaks volumes about their disrespect of the LGBTQ community, and the trans community in particular.
This is Ford’s party and it’s his responsibility to face this disastrous motion head-on. It remains to be seen if he’ll just wait for the outrage to die down.
An attack on those who need government the most
Eliminating independent legislative watchdogs shows a lack of concern and awareness for the communities directly affected by these cuts and the specific challenges that they face. Directly attacking the recognition of gender identity as a "liberal ideology" and removing it from Ontario's sex-ed curriculum is dangerously close to hate.
Judging by their actions, it is clear that to Ford and to the Ontario PC Party, the people in these communities are expendable and easily sacrificed for cash savings.
Or even worse, they become a partisan punching bag to rile up their base.
Ford’s government has been particularly adept at striking the most marginalized with no thought for consequences or long-term outcomes. He has taken aim at people who have little recourse and rely on government support to maintain the few privileges and services that they have.
Even if this is playing out provincially, these attacks on minorities should concern all Canadians, and it doesn’t speak well of us that in many cases it appears that it hasn’t.