From left, Heather McGill, Gareth Jones, Chrisy Tremblay, Sashya Zahaty, Shannon Russell, Donald Lafleur, Cindy Ladouceur, Dave Doran and Louise Lanctot mingle after the We Own It Town Hall on Mon., June 12.       Sawyer Helmer photo

Kalynn Sawyer Helmer
Record Staff
CORNWALL – On Mon., June 12, people gathered at the Benson Centre in Cornwall to hear speakers and express concerns about privatization of Ontario’s public services. The We Own It campaign raises awareness about the dangers of privatization in similar Town Hall meetings across Ontario.

Speakers included Cornwall city Councillor Elaine MacDonald, Ontario Public Service Employees Union Regional Vice President Gareth Jones and Canadian Labour Council Executive Vice President Donald Lafleur.

MacDonald began with a simple message, “We are at war.” MacDonald focused her speech on four issues: the privatization idealists, simple corporate greed, well meaning but cash-strapped governments, and tax averse neighbours. She explained that companies will try again and again so the “war” against privatization is never over, and noted, “Taxes generate community capital and that builds community itself.” When there are more jobs in the public sector, people put earnings back into the community and small businesses.The panel agreed that while politicians often mean well, they are faced with tough decisions that don’t always have the best outcome for constituents, so the evening revolved around encouraging the community to reach out to their MPs and MPPs.

Gareth Jones implored, “A vote is a powerful tool. The goal is for the representative in the next government to not support privatization.”

Jones said economic station or postal code should not “determine how successful you are at life.” This belief is supported by his lengthy career in Corrections and observations that inmates in the system have drastically changed over the years, in part caused by declining public services.

“The good news is these are campaigns that we can win. When citizens get mobilized and talk to politicians, politicians listen,” said Jones, who fears privatized care is not based on need but on profit.

Last, Lafleur roused the meeting with a demand that public services continue to be about fairness, equity and solidarity. “Real change never comes from the top. It always comes from the bottom. The collective voice is a powerful tool and we need to elect governments that have innovative alternatives,” said Lafleur. “Once you give a service to the private sector, it’s no longer a democracy.”

MPP Jim McDonell listened and seemed sympathetic to fears of privatization but added, “There are no absolutes [in either private or public], there is always room for a combination of players in the community.”

Main fears were about alcohol in grocery stores and the potential of normalization for children who will see the bottles on low shelves next to their favourite snacks. As well there were fears that younger cashiers would not have the knowhow or gumption to deny alcohol to potentially underaged buyers.

McDonell told The Record that audits done of stores such as grocers showed employees had highly successful track records suggesting cashiers were effective at denying tobacco to underage customers.

A study done in 2014 by the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy found, “Among the four classes of trade, compliance [to the FTCS regulations] was highest among chain convenience stores (89.0%), followed closely by grocery stores (88.0%) and gas convenience stores (86.7%). As in 2009 [a previous study of similar content], independent convenience stores (81.0%) were least compliant.” Alcohol has not been studied yet.

McDonell believes potential repercussions for private stores selling alcohol are enough incentive to train staff to ensure compliance with sale restrictions.

Valid concerns about job loss in the same sector were discussed. McDonell followed up, “People appreciate services just around the corner.” Currently, agency LCBO stores must be at least 10km from a LCBO or Beer Store and not in all communities. With so many businesses closing in smaller communities, grocery stores offering alcohol selections may bring in a much-needed market.

MPP Grant Crack told The Record he has no concerns about privatization at this time. “People want products and they should have reasonable access but in a socially responsible manner. Every case is different and there has to be a balance.” He said technology plays a big factor, especially in services like Service Ontario where people can get a lot of their information or products online. He said his government encourages the efficiency of the internet but also supports enhancing services locally to those who cannot access services online.

Opposing privatized health-care concerns, Crack explained that while Medicare is not perfect, it is public and has so far “served well,” and improving services is a process and takes time.

The meeting brought up the importance of taxes, the fear of corporate tax breaks and the potential for a Robin Hood tax. McDonell fears raising taxes will move businesses out of the community, taking away the community’s economy and wealth, citing local sports teams that get equipment and game time through private sponsors. “There are important points to hear…and there is a lot of room for improvement. But the private sector has an important role to play in a community’s standard of living. We have to get the politics out of these services and get back to economics,” concluded McDonell.

The meeting wrapped up by encouraging people to learn about political parties’ views to be well informed, and the meeting’s message was simple. Vote.