Friday, June 8, 2018
End Game -- The Ontario Election and Doug Ford
The polls were wrong again though they were wrong in favour of the ONDP. While many showed a race that was neck-and-neck going into yesterday, the Conservatives ended up winning 40.49% of the vote to the ONDP's 33.57%. The Liberals garnered but 19.59%.
This led to a massive Ford majority government. The ONDP are now the Official Opposition -- a role they have greatly coveted -- while the Liberals did not win enough seats to get party status in the commons. The Greens broke through winning their first seat ever with party leader Mike Schreiner triumphing in Guelph.
42% of voters stayed home.
That should tell us something about how people broadly feel about the "options" on offer and it is a fact that would likely have benefited the left if we actually had one.
You can try to sell shit as Shinola all you want. Doesn't mean the people are going to believe or buy into it.
The question is if the program on offer from the ONDP (never mind the totally spent Liberals) was so "inspiring" why did it motivate all too few people to vote for it?
While voter turnout increased from 2014 by almost 7% to a still sad 58%, the combined total vote of the ONDP and Liberals DECREASED by just over 9% (from a combined 62.4% to a combined 53.16%). The Green vote remained almost identical (4.6% as opposed to 4.84%).
That means that almost all of the new voters showing up voted Ford and Conservative.
All through the election there were clear signs that the ONDP was only being considered by some voters not because they wanted to embrace the ONDP's slightly, kinda in some places, more "left" than the Liberals platform but because they wanted to stop both Wynne and Ford. One poll showed 46% of those leaning NDP were doing so for this reason alone.
This type of negative motivation is often not enough for people to end up going to the polling station when push comes to shove. Though this will take time, the need to build a clear alternative to the status quo parties that can eventually grow to the point where people will not feel they are "wasting" their vote by supporting it has never been clearer.
After last night's results in Ontario activist Gabriel Haythornthwaite's incisive look to the future for the left is an even more important read: Ontario’s 2018 Election: Pessimism Today, Strategic Organizing Tomorrow.
The wages of liberalism in the US was Trump. While Ford is not a Trump, the wages of liberalism, in either the NDP or Liberal version, have proven to be the same kind of force of disillusion here too.
Amidst all of this there are a couple of points that also stand out:
1) While they may have "won" opposition status the NDP and its partisans will regret having supported the 'strategic voting' nonsense line that has been used to keep the left down for decades. Once you have affirmed that the Liberals were right all along when they said "stopping something that is worse is more important than voting for what you believe in or actually want" it is very hard to go back.
As we saw in the 2015 federal election -- where the NDP was also going in as opposition and with far more seats than the Liberals as it will be in 2022 here -- the way voters shift between the "lesser evil" options is based on broad trends as opposed to deep analysis and with the right leader the Liberals will have no problem in bouncing back against the milquetoast ONDP should the circumstances allow.
You can't bury the Liberal Party by promising that you will be a mildly better version of them and by embracing their cynical and defeatist electoral 'strategic' narratives.
2) The ability of the media and both the Conservatives and the Liberals to portray the NDP as "extremists" is in no small part due to the NDP's own efforts to eschew socialism and embrace reactionary, neo-liberal narratives about 'fiscal responsibility'.
To say there was nothing remotely "extreme" about the ONDP's platform would be putting it mildly. But the counter to this is not to actually affirm the narratives that the right has managed to make mainstream that any radical vision of transforming society is somehow 'scary'. By promising up and down that you do not have one and can trusted to efficiently take over the managing of the capitalist state seamlessly and with no reason for Bay St. to be worried, a party reinforces the validity of the idea that people should fear a left agenda.
Bay St. is going to try to bury any even mildly progressive reforms -- just look at the attacks Wynne faced with the minimum wage and new labour laws as well as what happened with the Rae government between 1990-1995 -- let alone an actually radical one.
We cannot counter this by capitulating to Bay St's narratives, but only by confronting them point-by-point and ceaselessly working to push the overall political discourse to the left. Leftists have done this before, including in Canada, and they can certainly do it again.
3) The ONDP knows now it can dangle a platform that is only marginally to the "left" of the Liberals and get great applause and largely uncritical support from many left activists. For example (as I have noted before) the Pharmacare plank was farcically limited in its scope, though it did at least somewhat embrace the principle of universality. The terrible childcare plan and the means-tested dental care plan did not even do that. Yet all were hailed by many former critics of the party as something to celebrate and be excited about.
While there was a leftist argument to be made for supporting the ONDP on election day in spite of its limitations due to the alternatives, those who tried to portray this last platform as a significant shift to the left or as a truly transformative or social democratic one have emboldened greatly the party's right and its strategists.
Now that Horwath and the ONDP are the opposition, we can surely anticipate that they will work to make themselves seen as the responsible "government in waiting" as the party did federally from 2011 to 2015. They can do so safe in the knowledge that half-baked, neo-liberal, means-tested program proposals will be lauded by many as being something they are not.
There are going to be very difficult days ahead as Ford first seeks to stop and dismantle some of what was achieved in the final year of the Wynne government and then turns to gutting social programs and to deep austerity under the guise of "efficiency".
These days will be made harder if the left allows its efforts to resist to be dissipated by politicians and leaders beholden to narrow electoral methods and opportunistic careerist goals. Building further mass alternatives of left activism and resistance to Ford outside of and independent of this is now of immediate critical importance.