Open letter to Ontario NDP and Liberals: Working together is first step in addressing poverty

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All eyes on Andrea Horwath this week in Ontario.

At first glance we may seem like an unusual couple to be writing this opinion piece. One of us is a former union leader while the other is a church leader. However we share much in common.

We both come from the same small town, Bath, New Brunswick. It was there that we saw how much of a difference it makes when neighbours help each other and unfortunately it was also in this small town where we saw the devastating impact of poverty on the lives of real people. They were our friends and classmates. Some were eventually able to overcome the poverty they were born or fell into when a parent got sick or lost a job. Others were left to do the best they could with limited hope that things would ever be better for them or their kids. Both of us now call Ontario home and have for many decades.

We also share our deep passion for social justice and we have worked together over the years to advance human rights and improve the quality of life of the people of this province. While we believe in paying down debt we also believe in building our social safety net, in strengthening our ability to help each other and giving hope to those who find themselves struggling to make ends meet while wondering how they can give their families a better life.

There are huge challenges facing the people of our province. And yet we believe there is a unique opportunity before us to address, in significant and lasting ways, these challenges.

Poverty continues to devastate single people and families, our prized medical system is under increasing pressure and not only needs protecting but also needs enhancements, working people need help to make ends meet, quality child care and early childhood education must be more accessible and affordable, and our seniors who have worked hard to build a generous and prosperous society -- many now find themselves unable to reap the benefits and are frankly terrified of what their retirement years could look like.

We are increasingly aware of the necessity to get to the root causes of crime so our kids can be safe in their schools and neighbourhoods, our police safe on the job and all of us safe as we walk our streets. And we have some tough decisions to make as we are determined to leave our environment better, not worse, for future generations.

We can only tackle these issues in meaningful ways if we work together and only if we are led by politicians who will work together. We need the three parties in the Ontario legislature to do as former NDP leader Jack Layton so often said "make government work." Unfortunately it only now seems likely that two parties might even consider it. Yes, we can hold each other accountable for the mistakes we make, yes we can have disagreements, and yes we can even campaign against each other if necessary when election time comes but for now we need the campaigning to stop and the work of cooperative governing to begin for the benefit of Ontarians. We must be driven by our common goals and not just by our desire to achieve power or maintain power.

This will require of us a new way to do politics. It will require more trust and respect and less of the embarrassing behaviour we see during question period at Queens Park. It will require more patience and less gotcha posturing in front of the cameras. It will require more concern with implementing a progressive agenda for the people of Ontario and less concern for the short term interests of any political party. It will require more listening and less attacking.

We have all seen what drastic cuts to social programs can do and how long it takes to recover. We don't want to go back there. We can look south of the border and see what U.S style politics leads to. Divisiveness and obstructionism only leads to absolutely nothing getting done. We see how attacks on organized labour leads to pitting neighbour against neighbour and weaken our economic growth. We see how constant campaigning diverts us from real and lasting progress and how unwanted elections cost us money and lost time.

We are asking the NDP and the Liberals to co-operate and pass the budget (possibility with some tweaking). However we are frankly asking for much more. We are asking for a concerted effort over the next few years to do politics differently. This is a unique moment in Ontario politics.

The grassroots want progress on important issues. They want the parties to work together. If they can just start trusting each other, then minority government can work and can bring real benefits to Ontario. In some religious circles there is the concept of the Year of the Jubilee when once in seven years there comes an opportunity for forgiveness, restructuring how we do things and how we are with each other. Now is such a moment for Ontario.

Let us work together to make the lives of people better, let's restore hope and optimism, let's pass the budget and get on with the job. The people of Ontario will reward you for doing the right thing. Pass the budget and get working together.

Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes has been the Senior Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto for 35 years and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2007.

Buzz Hargrove is the longest serving national president for the CAW and currently is the External Director of the Centre for Labour Management Relations at Ryerson University in Toronto. 

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