How the Harris years changed one young life

Kristof is a Ward Clerk on a surgical floor at Mount Sinai’s Hospital in Toronto. He’s in his 30s, soft-spoken, polite. His Twitter page is full of union activity and photos of “strong women” on Equal Pay Day.

The job path he took wasn’t his first choice.

At the young age of 18, Kristof was the sole provider and caregiver for his elderly father. That time was the 1990s, and Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative government was changing Ontario’s social programs drastically.

“Our problems during the Harris years started when I was in high school and there was a month-long strike over cuts,” says Kristof, who lived in Thorncliffe Park, Toronto. He and his dad Ferenc had immigrated to Canada from Hungary in the 1980s.

Ferenc’s condition worsened just as Kristof was getting ready for college. “We had no ability to navigate the system. I remember talking to a social worker about our situation, and her saying ‘because of the changes in the system, our hands are tied’.”

Unable to access student loans or other social supports to help the small family get by, Kristof had no choice but to quit his college program in Police Foundations and look for full-time work.

“For my dad’s age, he was fairly independent, but physically and emotionally, he needed help,” explains Kristof. He was not comfortable with his dad living in a nursing home. “It was a hard decision but it was the most ethical decision to make at the time.”

Kristof got a part-time job at Food Basics and started volunteering in the ICU at Mount Sinai hospital, which eventually led to being hired to work in a hospital, with union wages that lifted him and his father out of poverty.

“As a volunteer in the healthcare system in the 90s I saw the dilapidated equipment, I heard the stories from nurses about getting fired and rehired with different wages, about hospitals being shut down,” recalls Kristof.

Kristof’s dad died in 2008, having spent his last years comfortable and safe in their apartment. But Kristof doesn’t want anyone in Ontario to have to make the same sacrifices, and is worried about the provincial election.

“Hudak is Harris on steroids,” he says. “There is no doubt that if given the chance, he would enact the most controversial legislation early in his mandate. Tomorrow is basically a referendum:  are we for Tim Hudak and the low-wage economy where we’re on our own, or are we for a society where we’re all in it together?”

G.W.

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