As the results trickled in last Thursday night throughout Ontario one thing was obvious, Kathleen Wynne had succeeded where many had failed before – she rendered a swift and decisive blow to the austerity agenda in Ontario.
But the true question that lingers after this 41st Ontarian electoral cycle is how much of this victory can be attributed to the Liberal campaign and Kathleen Wynne, and how much is due to an impressive anti-Hudak campaign? Thursday’s vote must be seen first and foremost as a refutal of the cuts to social services, to the public service sector, to the continuation of the dismantlement of the Ontario welfare state, and the “tea-partyesque” agenda of Tim Hudak & Co. This is bad news for the Conservative movement on the federal level as well. It seems that there will be no Common Sense Revolution “take two”, and it appears that the Ontario neo-liberal laboratory is vacant. The majority of Ontarians aren’t ready to go down the Harris road anytime soon.
The Ontario election was insightful, in purely electoral terms for the Canadian left. Kathleen Wynne proved that taking austerity head-on during a campaign, wrestling economic issues away from the right, and redefining these issues in social terms – not purely abstract statistical ones – is a winning equation. But this doesn’t mean that the spectre of austerity is defeated once and for all, but rather much to the contrary. As we know too well, unfortunately a campaign on the left doesn’t automatically translate into a government on the left.
But one thing that cruelly lacked on the left during this campaign was a strong link with the social movements that have been shaking up Ontario since the onset of the big crunch in 2008. Striking students against outrageous tuition fees, working families fighting for a living wage, public sector employees struggling against cuts across the board, Indigenous communities that spearheaded the idle no more movement, were nowhere to be seen. The incapacity of the Ontarian left to foster such strong alliances with grassroots campaigns and to build a movement that not only defeats austerity, but creates the place for an alternative agenda to grow, is the main reason why austerity might have been defeated at the ballot box, but it surely hasn’t been defeated in Queen’s Park.
Many have said throughout these past few years which have seen Tim Hudak as leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario that he has “snatched (time after time) defeated from the jaws of victory”. This is certainly true, but if this Ontario election is an indication of anything, its surely that Ontario is in the mind space for a strong progressive government. And yet the Ontario electoral left has missed that rendez-vous… at least for now. The Ontario left might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but still be defeated, the Conservative agenda might,within the next four years, prove to be the real victor of this exercise in democracy.
We must view the Liberal Party of Ontario’s victory Thursday, as a mandate for a progressive government that will finally break with the Harris legacy. The Liberals won because they were successful in convincing the Ontario electorate that they were the only ones that could defeat the Hudak tea-party crusade, but that’s a detail. The Liberals aren’t so much the big victors of Thursday night as much as the Ontario Tea Party is the big loser.
The Reform revolution started circa 1987 in the Canadian west, which for the past 30 odd years has spread like wildfire through all levels of government, is the loser of the electoral night. It has been a movement that has profoundly transformed Canada and dominated the political discourse in this country. That’s the true lesson for the left at the wrap-up of this Ontario election: the space for a strong left-wing movement that builds campaigns such as the 14$ minimum wage in Ontario, the campaign for non-commodified education, the campaign for a Robin Hood tax, for affordable housing for all. These are just to name a few. The political space for a strong left-wing, social-democratic, socialist – call it what you want – revival on the Canadian political stage is within our grasp.
The lesson to take from this election is that we have to have the audacity on the left to fightback. If we define ourselves within the rhetorical space that is given to us by the neo-liberal consensus, without trying to jailbreak and offer an alternative, then we’ve lost before we’ve even gotten started. This will only be achieved if we succeed at unifying social movements on the ground with a political caucus in Queens Park, and only if such a caucus becomes the voice of the aspirations and vision of the various social justice campaigns. Canadians from all walks of life are asking for an alternative.
It’s about time we have a true left campaign that forms a true left government, that implements true left policies.
A luta continua.