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 AN OPEN LETTER TO THE 'LEFT'

    For four years the Harris gang have run roughshod over the social infrastructure that so many of us have fought and struggled for years to build. Welfare, housing, healthcare and education have all come under the Tory axe and now lie crippled and bleeding.

    With the 1999 election campaign Harris seeks to implement phase two of his 'mission' to remake Ontario - this being the social control phase.

    It is all well and good to focus on healthcare or education as these issues are fundamental, and winnable - but what of those who have been plunged into hardship and misery due to the 21.6% cut to Welfare? What about the untold thousands of persons forced into homelessness by the decimation of social housing or expedited evictions under the horribly misnamed 'Tenant Protection Act'?

    Phase two of his Ontario makeover has Harris promising to crack down on the victims of his earlier policies through laws that would target Psychiatric Survivors for possible forced drugging in the community, provide for drug testing of welfare recipients  with a mandatory 'treatment' condition being imposed, and allow for ruthless attacks on squeegeers or panhandlers.

    Even worse is the apparent fact that the 'left' has abandoned these vital isues in this campaign. 

    Almost no mention of  the crushing need for housing has been made since the election call. Almost no mention has been made of the devastation sown by the cuts to social assistance. Yesterday (May 13) when Harris held a media conference with members of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario to promote his plan to implement 'community treatment' orders, the usual throng of demonstrators was mysteriously absent. 

    (And the Liberals are no better in this regard - Ottawa Center MPP Richard Patten has twice attempted to introduce forced community treatment bills through private member's legislation, and former Schizophrenia Society of Ontario boss  Selina Volpatti is herself running for the Grits in Niagara Falls).

    Has the 'left' also been totally duped into believing the 'dangerous mental patient' myth, or the equally ludicrous assumption that most homeless persons wind up on the streets as a result of untreated 'mental illness'? Is this merely a misguided notion of compassion that has 'progressive' persons ignoring these Tory promises that could result in so many marginalized Ontarians losing even basic human rights? Or are there more selfish interests involved in this neglect? Are we not worthy of support as well - those of us who subsist on welfare, or who have no home to go to, or have had the social blight of a psychiatric label imposed upon us? Remember - silence equals complicity.

    Activists or other so-called 'progressive' persons also must be prepared to examine their own biases, and to challenge these assumptions in themselves or their peers, as well as fighting their manifestation in right-wing social policies. Everyone  has the right to be listened to, and supported in their struggles - in fact, the more privileged of social activists have an obligation to place their resources at the disposal of the marginalized, for use under terms defined by the marginalized. Failure to do so displays merely another form of elitism and social hierarchy hiding behind a 'progressive' front.

   It is of the utmost importance that the fundamental human rights issues I have outlined above be placed front and center from this time forth in the ongoing struggle to defeat the Tory reign of evil. It is insufficient to merely pursue a narrowly focused approach limited to those issues that are easiest to sell to the voting population. We all have the right to be adequately housed , to have access to proper nutrition, and to not be subjected to state-sanctioned violence or repression on the basis of economic status, lifestyle or (real or perceived) medical issues. These concerns can no longer be abandoned. The 'left' has no more right to pander to public bigotry or ignorance than does anyone else.

    People who wish additional supports in their lives should have the right to determine what form these shall take and to pursue such on an entirely voluntary basis, without fear of a narrow, arbitrary, often damaging model of 'care' being imposed upon them by force. Without these fundamentals healthcare becomes (at best) no more than a desperate attempt to repair the  physical damage caused to people by a society that has abandoned all compassion - and at worst becomes merely another tool of oppression. Education becomes all but impossible regardless of funding levels because it isn't possible to learn on an empty stomach, or when otherwise engaged in a desperate fight for survival.

WE NEED TO GET OUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT!

GRAEME BACQUE
MAY 14, 1999