Ontario’s October 6th election resulted in a Liberal minority and a third term for Premier Dalton McGuinty. This was not a vote of confidence in the Liberals, but rather a major defeat for the Tories, who were rejected in northern and urban Ontario, despite polls which showed them in the lead last spring, and despite some gains in eastern and rural Ontario.
One reason for the Tories’ failure to launch was their call to attack the poor, Aboriginal Peoples, women, labour and youth. Their platform included proposals for a two-strikes law, forced prison labour, new police powers, and making political action by trade unions illegal, as well as massive cuts to social spending, privatization of public assets, new corporate tax cuts, and more deregulation.
The platform reflects the ideas of the Ontario Landowners Association, an extreme, right‑wing rural organization headed by MPP Randy Hillier, which secured nominations in several ridings and knocked off veteran incumbent Norm Stirling.
A large part of the defeat is being laid at the door of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose cutting of city services and assets roused a huge public mobilization. The “trifecta” of Ford, Harper and Hudakbecame a fearful example of what a Tory Ontario might actually look like.
The Tories began their campaign with a xenophobic attack on “foreign workers” which lost them seats in the GTA and other urban areas. They ended with a vicious attack on LGBT rights, draped in an attack on a sex education program considered by the TDSB two years ago. That sealed the deal with a complete Tory shut‑out in Toronto.
Tory leader Tim Hudak was also outed by social conservatives in his own party, who announced in July that he had signed a petition promising to de‑list abortion as an insured health service if he formed a government.
All this was hammered home night after night in TV ads put together by the Liberal-friendly Working Families Coalition, an elections third party funded by the building trades, teacher unions, CAW, and some others in the public sector. It was an effective campaign.
The result was also a failure of the NDP, which tacked sharply to the right in an effort to win Liberal votes and ride the “orange crush” to government, or at least to opposition status, a la Jack Layton. The NDP gained only seven seats in urban and northern Ontario for a total of 17, far short of the Liberals’ 53 seats and the Tories’ 37. On key issues, the NDP was far short of what was required.
The BC referendum on the HST sent a clear message that repeal of the HST would have widespread support. But Big Business supports the HST, and the NDP told media they would not repeal. Likewise on skyrocketing auto insurance rates, the best they could offer was to bring “stakeholders” together to discuss options. In other words, to talk to the insurance companies. On jobs, they proposed to appoint a watchdog on plant closures; a voice without teeth. And still the memory of Bob Rae lingers, despite NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s rejoinders to “move on”.
The Green Party’s 8% vote in the 2007 election collapsed to just 3%, the result of right wing economic and social policies, and the fact that electoral reform was virtually a non‑issue in this campaign, while environmental issues like wind farms were adroitly handled by the government. Former Green Party leader and Davenport candidate Frank De Jong helped sink his party when he said the Harris government had it right on education policy. In fact, the Harris Tories declared war on public education during two terms from 1995 to 2003.
In fact the Liberals won by default, by being the least‑worst of the top two, by fear of the Tories, by memories of Mike Harris and Bob Rae, by the NDP’s tepid policies, by a Green party that’s closer to the Tories than any other party, by voters’ unwillingness to elect the same government federally and provincially, by an undemocratic voting system. But voters did put the Liberals on a short leash, andMcGuinty must listen to public opinion or face the consequences.
The Communist Party’s vote remained low, but its nine candidates found voters attentive to their message. For the first time in many years Communist lawn signs graced neighbourhoods in Brampton andHamilton, the result of door to door canvassing and discussions of the Communist platform. Repeal of the HST was a key message, along with doubling the corporate tax rate, job creation, affordable housing, child care, health care, and tuition relief for students. The idea that corporations should get off the gravy train met with widespread support.
“People are listening with a new ear” said CPC (Ontario) leader Liz Rowley. “Living standards and social conditions are rapidly deteriorating and working people are becoming desperate. The parties in Queen’s Park have no fundamental change, no solutions to offer. We do. And people are starting to recognize the significance of our policies and the need for really fundamental change. That’s what’s new, and likely the reason why we face an unprecedented blackout in the television and radio media.”
The party demonstrated outside both TV Ontario and CBC during the campaign, forcing TVO to finally interview Rowley on the party’s platform and policies.
The lowest voter turn‑out in Ontario history was recorded, at 49%, despite changes allowing almost unlimited opportunities to vote throughout the 29 day campaign.
It’s not that voters are disinterested in politics. Working people ‑ and youth in the first place ‑ are very interested and active, but are also fed up with electoral politics that promise progressive change but don’t deliver. The anti‑capitalist, anti-corporate message of the Occupy movement reflects this.
On the verge on a new and deeper recession, perhaps a depression; and with right‑wing governments all around, including the newly elected Liberal minority, hard times are about to get even harder.
The Liberals are likely to rely on the Tories to support program cuts and privatizations in the next budget, and for the attacks on the public sector unions and on free collective bargaining that will follow. On the main economic questions, Liberal and Tory policies are not significantly different. Their differences are on law and order issues and on social questions, where the Liberals are likely to rely on the NDP for support. An election is unlikely for at least a couple of years.
The decisive question now is the extra‑parliamentary struggle, with effective labour and progressive leadership at the core, to exert sufficient pressure on Queen’s Park to divert the corporate agenda. The issues of good jobs, rising wages and living standards, strong social programs, affordable housing, quality public health care and education, accessible post secondary education, a guaranteed annual income, public ownership and civil and democratic rights continue to be at the centre of the struggles ahead. This is a struggle to curb corporate power and to bring about real, progressive and fundamental change.
This will no doubt be at the heart of this month’s OFL Convention.