Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Kathleen Wynne catastrophe

As 2016 draws to a close, I think it is safe to say that we are seeing a genuine catastrophe unfolding in Ontario.

Seldom has a province had a government so singularly ineffective, seemingly corrupt, and astoundingly tone deaf and hypocritical. It is almost as if Kathleen Wynne and her cabal are actually intent on handing the reigns of office over to the deeply odious Patrick Brown.

Wynne, as you may recall, was elected to power with a totally unanticipated and unexpected majority government just a couple of short years ago. Pledging to be the "social justice premier" she was greatly aided in her path to victory by staggeringly awful campaigns from both the Conservatives and the NDP.

The Conservatives under former leader and right wing ideologue Tim Hudak launched their campaign by promising to fire 100,000 people (as part of his 'job creation' plan!...seriously) and then rolling out an austerity vision that was an overt assault on students, the middle-class, seniors and many others.

To say that this turned out to be politically unwise would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, the NDP under Horwath went out of their way to alienate their traditional supporters and voters in the crucial Toronto region in a deeply misguided attempt to ape right wing populism. It did not end well for the party and nor did it deserve to.

Their strategy was so bankrupt that they went on to lose a by-election to the Wynne Liberals in Sudbury -- a seat they had actually won in the general --  just a few short months later despite the fact that the Liberal campaign in this case was shown to be deeply ethically challenged prior to election day.

Yet, in spite of this auspicious start, Wynne's now stands, justly, as one of the most unpopular governments in Canadian history.

There are many reasons for this.

Far from being a "social justice premier" Wynne has made the pretension into a sick farce as Ontario's poverty gap continues to grow, as little is being done to confront the cruelty of inhuman social assistance and disability rates, as Ontario's minimum wage remains a poverty wage and as the Liberals try to deflect this grotesque reality by endless committees and consultations and distractions such as the idea of a deeply problematic "basic income" that may come someday once all the "experts" have discussed it for a few years.

Her administration has been undermined by its inability to contain hydro rates and the constant clouds of corruption scandals that hover over it. It is also mired in a deep fatigue flowing from the Liberals having governed since 2003. While there have been a few accomplishments -- such as full day kindergarten -- there have been far more cases where the substance, if not the tone, of the Harris years seems to have simply carried on after having been coated with a supremely thin layer of red gloss.

Even in areas where there was at least rhetorically genuine promise, such as transit, the Liberals have presided over an endless series of dead ends and detours that, at the moment, mean that people in cities like Toronto have seen very little to show for what "progressives" are allegedly supposed to deliver on after well over a decade in office.

Wynne and her crew come off as not simply incompetent, which is bad enough, but also as ultimately indifferent, which is even worse. They are quickly shaping up as perfectly symbolic of the fundamental malaise that is gripping liberalism -- as well as its now uncomfortably close cousin social democracy -- internationally and that is so directly contributing to the rise of the hard right. 

As we are now into the second half of her mandate, Wynne looks near certain to lose the next election, and lose it very badly, to a Progressive Conservative Party led by Patrick Brown that has, at least so far, rather surprisingly tried to learn at least some of the lessons from its 2014 debacle.

Brown, who ran as the right wing candidate for his party's leadership, has done a serious about face and has sought to moderate his party's tone on a range of issues, most especially socially conservative ones.

Whether or not leftists find this convincing (which I most certainly do not) is irrelevant as Brown is not aiming his dog and pony show at us but rather at the soft right flank of the Liberal Party's voters. He seeks to portray himself as a gentler type of Tory who will not change course too much but rather just enough to right the ship fiscally.

Brown, in reality, is an incredible reactionary who leads a coalition of demented neo-libertarian free-market fundamentalists and dangerous religious zealots. But he need only keep the more strident voices at least somewhat in check. In case one thinks this unlikely, Haper did exactly this and ended up as the Canadian Prime Minister for nearly a decade.

Brown's chances are also aided by the utter inanity of the ONDP's ongoing strategy to alienate as much of Toronto as they can on their way to another few years of total irrelevance. One has to assume that their goal must be to simply try to get more seats than the Liberals when Wynne's government collapses, because unlike their Conservative counterparts they have learned nothing from 2014.

Ironically for a party that sneers at leftists and claims that its goal is 'power', the ONDP rewarded Horwath for her fiasco campaign by reaffirming her as their leader after the election (with a higher approval vote no less!) and their overall approach has barely shifted at all.

That this is foolhardy should be obvious to all but the most dim of 'strategists'. That somehow it is not to the ONDP braintrust speaks volumes. This unfortunate confluence of opportunism and idiocy is truly ill-timed.

While two years is an incredibly long time in politics, at present the Conservatives seem to be well on their way to cruise to a massive and perhaps historic majority.

And the empty and amoral cynicism of  bankrupt liberalism and social democracy will deliver yet another reactionary government that will be profoundly harmful to civil society, workers, people living in poverty and racialized and marginalized communities. A government that, in conjunction with the rise of similar administrations continent wide, will push the terms and frames of reference of our political 'debate' and discourse ever further to the right.

See also: Ontario's poverty gap puts the lie to Wynne's 'social justice' pretensions

See also: Obama, Trudeau & Clinton -- Feeling good about the lies of liberalism

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