Can a 'rural renaissance' beat privatization?

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Privatization hurts all Ontarians, but it's especially damaging to rural communities. During a packed town hall meeting in Brockville on Tuesday, October 10, a politically diverse group of leaders said it's time for a "rural renaissance" to push back against privatization and austerity.

r4_brockville_town_hall_(36).jpg“The provincial government has all but forgotten rural Ontario, and it’s killing communities like Brockville,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas.

He said the problem is privatization, which leaves the government with less money to invest in the prosperity and safety of small communities.

“Just look at the 401 here in Brockville,” Thomas said. “It’s the most dangerous stretch of highway in the province. It should be six lanes all the way to the Quebec border, but the government says they can’t afford it.

“Well, they can’t afford it because of privatization.”

 More than 50 people attended the town hall, which was moderated by OPSEU Regional Vice-President Gareth Jones. The featured panelists included Thomas and politicians from all three levels of government: Leeds—Grenville MPP Steve Clark, Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes MP Gord Brown, and Brockville City Councillor Leigh Bursey.

The wide-ranging conversation, including many comments from the crowd, covered everything from hydro to highways and from schools to auto insurance.

r4_brockville_town_hall_(7).jpg“There’s been a whole wave of privatization over the past 20 years,” said Bursey. “At the time, it may have seemed expedient to sell off our public services, but we’re paying for those decisions now.

"Band-aid solutions are not the way to fix our problems.”

Clark, a Conservative MPP, said that money lost because of things like the privatization of Hydro One leaves government with less to provide services. He pointed out that rural communities are the ones to bear the brunt of the shortfalls.

“But as I always say, we pay our fair share of taxes in rural Ontario,” Clark said. “We deserve our fair share of taxes.”

Brown, a Conservative MP, echoed Clark’s concern about the damage privatization does to services. He said that when he was chairperson of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, a privatization proposal crossed his desk.

“They didn’t call it privatization, they called it ‘alternative service delivery,’” Brown said. “But it quickly became clear to me that it was all about generating profit, not delivering a quality service. To me, that was a dead-end street and that’s why we said ‘no’.”

Brown said he hoped the Brockville town hall will help spark a “rural renaissance” across Ontario. Thomas said the We Own It campaign is there to help.

r4_brockville_town_hall_(71).jpg"OPSEU started the We Own It campaign here in Ontario, but it's not just for OPSEU -- we want it to be a peoples' movement," he said. "If we can help promote a rural renaissance and make it an issue in the upcoming election, I'm all for it."

Jones wrapped up the evening by encouraging people to speak up against privatization and the destruction of public services.

“When we get together at meetings like this and start building coalitions, we can win,” said Jones. “We’ve saved ServiceOntario centres. We’ve stopped the closure of schools. We saved the Provincial Demonstration Schools.

“If we join together against privatization, we will beat it.”

The meeting space and refreshments were donated by the Brockville Convention Centre.