Thursday, June 7, 2018
Ontario’s 2018 Election: Pessimism Today, Strategic Organizing Tomorrow
By Gabriel Haythornthwaite
The merry-go-round of Ontario's corporate politics is reaching its dizzying conclusion today and I imagine I am not the only one who wants off this shitty ride.
Voters decided well before the election that they were not going to fall for yet-another Liberal rendition of simultaneously playing the good and bad corporate cop. The one good thing about watching the returns tonight will be to see a wholesale massacre of the Wynne caucus. A clever politician to the last, Wynne has pleaded the case in recent days for 'practical' centrism to hold the gates against either a blackshirt or Red barbarian majority. I doubt this plea will save official party status (8 seats) for the ruling Liberals. Regrettably, the joy of watching Liberal heads roll will be more than offset by seeing Regressives and Northern Democrats take their place.
Representing the coming of a political nuclear-winter is Doug Ford. With the looks of Fester Adams, the mannerisms of Lurch and the personal charm of the White-Walker King, the elder Ford looks set to grab the Iron Throne at Queen's Park. This Worst-Case scenario looked a dead-cert at the beginning of the campaign but the White-Walker Regressives have almost blown it yet again. An obviously ill-prepared leader -- elected by a party enduring civil war while choking on plumes of multiple serious scandals -- has played it safe by withholding a platform until the last minute and pledging no service cutbacks despite promising $6 billion in public cuts. The negative aspects of the Trump effect for the liberal majority seems to have been stronger than the appeal it holds for the die-hard ‘fash’ and the deeply confused. Anything less than a Worst-Case majority would be a humiliating defeat for the Regressive Conservatives.
Andrea Horwath may well be the second luckiest leader of our times (1st prize goes to the paper-deep Trudeau the Younger). Arrayed against one of Ontario’s most unpopular premiers and a hard-right opposition leader with the appeal of dysentery, Horwath's brain-trust has decided not to run to the Right of the Liberals as they did in 2014 (and the fed NDP did in 2015) but, heeding the call of Corbyn/Sanders, has reverted to running just to the left of the ruling Liberals. And it has paid off—no doubt there will be considerable relief in the Northern Democrat inner-sanctum in winning the loyal opposition spot with a doubled caucus rather than being thrust into power.
There has been a surge of left-activist support for the NDP this time out which has been predicated on both ABC tactical considerations (an understandable if short-term impulse) and frankly inaccurate assessments that the NDP has made a dramatic 'return' to the 'Left'. But the weak broth of the NDP platform, complete with its purely token call for tax rises on the rich (1.5% corporate, 2% on those making more than $300k, leaving rates still near historic lows) and tepid pretenses to expand social provision, is well to the right of the actually social democratic platform Bob Rae campaigned on in 1990. Lest we forget, little more than 6 months ago, the NDP was running over to the Bastards of Commerce to repeat their right wing legislative committee attacks on the Liberal’s minimum wage/labour standards Bill 148, saying the move towards a $15 minimum wage was too fast and that rich business owners needed time and tax cuts (‘offsets’) to afford a move towards a living wage.
Which brings us to the question of what to expect in the aftermath of tonight's electoral shit-fest:
1) Regardless of the voting outcome, the corporate rich will continue to drive the agenda of government. They have the debate mega-phones (conventional media still rules the regressive 'marketplace of ideas'), the allegiance of Ministry bureaucrats who play a decisive role in the affairs and actions of the state and the fealty of all established parties who are dedicated to the global competitive position of the corrupt cartels which dominate the economy. There simply is no effective working class counter-balance to the multiple dimensions of corporate power as labour organizations have less interest than ever in developing independent democratic politics.
2) However, the strategic considerations of advancing corporate power have become more challenging than in neoliberalism’s salad-days during the 1990s. There is significance in the fact that all three parties have beat their campaign chests against austerity cutbacks despite all being deeply implicated in the austerity that has gripped the province for nearly two generations. Particularly important is the fact that Ford's Blue-Men have felt compelled to campaign against cuts--the Regressive in my riding has pledged to end hospital overcrowding, decrying 'hallway medicine’. Unending economic crises for the working majority, popular sentiment for public services and the organized resistance against cuts has resulted in the ideological puncturing of the austerity model.
3) This does not mean that cuts are over. Far from it. Anti-social austerity will continue regardless of the outcome. Token tax rises on the rich will barely slow down the cuts let alone end or reverse them, and it bears noting that Bob Rae made his government the enthusiastic agent of neoliberalism less than half-way through his term despite running on a platform well to the left of today's ONDP. The Ford Regressives are about to embark on the same uber-lying approach to governing that the BC Liberals did in 2001 -- talk rainbows and good government to get elected and then go into turbo-cut mode.
4) The position of social opposition to the corporate rich and their right wing party wing-men is much weaker than in the 1990s. The agenda of austerity cuts does not have the wind of the imperial West's victory over Communism at its back as Harris had in 1995--and that does represent an ideological opening for a democratic left wing politics. But, since the 1990s, labour has become much diminished economically and has politically capitulated to right wing austerity. There are inspired activist groups undertaking effective organizing actions, but we are far from the rooted and politically assertive worker-led social movements of the past. With neither positioning (e.g. opposition caucuses inside the unions, popular committees in neighbourhoods and workplaces) nor strategy, today's activists run the risk of replaying the disjointed anti-Harris Days of Action protests, but at a lower material and political level.
But we do have smart, experienced and capable activists who have come together in some important centres, particularly in the GTA. We also have the benefit of historical experience to draw upon. And a legitimacy crisis of neoliberal ideology and its flagship of austerity cuts. Protest, yes, but also take some time to balance-sheet from what we can learn from the successes and limits of campaigns like Fight For $15. Here is some food for thought towards how we might take on the dystopic present being reconfirmed in this election campaign:
A) Develop new publications that can reach mass audiences outside the activist world. I would not rule out the role social media can play but nor do I think leftists can rely exclusively upon it. We need more immediate bulletins (which can have social media platforms) to inform the arguments, emphasis and co-ordination of the anti-Ford protest movement (as advocated by Doug Nesbitt in an excellent retrospective piece published in RankandFile.ca (http://rankandfile.ca/four-labour-lessons-from-the-harris-years/) but also longer-range strategic publications that can flesh out a POLITICAL plan towards independent left wing democratic action in support of the working majority.
B) Develop campaigns around key themes of importance to the working majority. For example, opposing health and education cuts, tax-the-rich, workplace safety/challenging the loathsome WSIB and expanding annual paid-holidays. These campaigns should have a flexible plan with a clear timeline to include activities like the petitioning of F4$15 but also be anchored by speaking tours to intrude upon the corporate monopoly over public debate and encourage local initiative and on-going organization.
C) Local organization should include the building of opposition caucuses at all levels of labour and the creation of workplace and neighbourhood committees. These organizations should combine an open-ended commitment to the long-term interests of the working majority with a sharp focus on key issues of interest to the locale of the organization itself.
D) Local organizations should be encouraged to 'combine' by 'industrial' sector (e.g. education, health, retail services, manufacturing, etc.), regionally and, eventually, province-wide to facilitate the sharing of lessons, resources and in coordinating democratic action.
E) New left wing networks are needed to complement popular organizations of the working majority with a focus on long-term strategic planning towards independent democratic action in politics. I think we should be flexible and open-minded about how these networks come about, e.g. whether they are new initiatives or the coming together of existing left wing groups, but we do need a clear and firm sense of association requirements (e.g. programmatic agreement, dues, plus effective activity within the network’s organization) and what they are tasked to do in the short, medium and long-term.
F) The publications, campaigns, local/regional/sectoral organizations and political networks should have sharp eyes on the electoral cycles, local, provincial and federal. Not in a narrow, exclusive way but rather in productive relationship to extra-electoral activity. At least one year out from an election, special committees should be formed (local, regional and eventually provincial) to sketch out how campaigns and other organizing initiatives should inform a political action strategy in the lead-up to and during the election. These democratic action committees can look to work with labour councils, union locals and other popular organizations to develop campaign issue themes of critical importance to the working majority (promoted through educational and agitational means), sponsor all-candidates meetings (ACMs) to highlight these themes during the election, intrude in other ACMs and the corporate media, do canvassing as F4$15 folks have been doing, sponsor kitchen-table meetings in communities to draw in new energies and experience, etc.
Eventually, the activity suggested above can build the organizational and experiential basis for effective independent left wing candidates in elections themselves; to break out of lesser-evil-ism and to avoid the demoralization that can result from running candidates with limited organization, profile, and experience.
Nothing written above will change what happens today at the polls. But putting all our left wing heads together in new combinations towards effective strategies can create better political possibilities going forward.
Gabriel Haythornthwaite was elected on an anti-austerity and direct democracy platform for one term as a labour-allied school board trustee in Cowichan, BC (2002-5). He has worked with First Nations organizations in education management and policy research for 10 years. Currently, Gabriel is a PhD Candidate at the Faculty of Education at Western University in London, On. researching First Nations education self-government arrangements.
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See also: Vote NDP to stop Ford...but don't try to sell it as supporting a leftist agenda
See also: Vote Communist in twelve ridings and other thoughts for election day in Ontario