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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Ford cruising to reelection in Ontario due to squandered opportunities, uninspiring opposition

Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath at the Leader's Debate, May 10, 2022

With a week to go Ontario is in the homestretch of an election that has seen little change in the standings of the parties in terms of the polls and that appears to heading to another majority government for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives. The CBC daily poll tracker shows the PCs at 36.3% while a Postmedia/Leger poll has them at 38%.

The opposition parties have failed to gain any serious traction or momentum and while a last minute shift of some kind is possible, it seems unlikely. The Liberals are ahead of the NDP by 2 or 3 percentage points while the Greens are at around 6 or 7 percent. The upstart parties on the far right are shaping up to be essentially a non-factor, which is very good news for the Conservatives. Due to the way the different parties votes are distributed the NDP may still come out ahead of the Liberals in terms of seats on June 2, but either way the election will have been a major disappointment for them if they lose ground as predicted.

It was not supposed to be like this. Before the pandemic Ford and his government had quickly tanked in popularity during their first year and a half in office. A number of scandals and missteps, a boorish and arrogant governing style, as well as some deeply unpopular policy moves saw the Tories trailing in the polls and there were even rumours that Ford would resign as leader before the end of his first term. Things were so bad he was booed loudly by the massive crowd at the victory party for the Toronto Raptors in June, 2019.

There is no doubt that Ford's dramatic shift in tone and even in some policy directions since the start of the pandemic has done much to bring about a remarkable reversal of fortune. But he has also benefited from having particularly ineffectual opponents.

While the NDP was not exactly generating huge waves of excitement, it was certainly possible that they could have capitalized on the situation and discontent as the Official Opposition and been in a position to win in 2022. This was obviously the dream of its partisans and leadership and many labour unions and activist groups have been pushing hard for people to vote NDP as the primary way to prevent another term for an anti-worker, reactionary government.

The NDP, however, was handed a gift in 2018 that was not really of their own making. They did not come out ahead of the Liberals due to their campaign and leadership, but rather due to the incredibly deep unpopularity of Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals at the time. In fact, one could make a very good case that with better leadership and a more inspiring platform the NDP could have prevented a Tory majority or even won the election.

That was election number three under the utterly lackluster, rudderless and often right-wing and undemocratic Andrea Horwath and now as number four nears she has clearly failed to take the NDP towards the promised land of power that has eluded them in Ontario since Bob Rae in the early 90s.

That the NDP is actually behind the Liberals at this point given the totally uninspiring and uncharismatic flatline "leadership" of Steven Del Duca speaks volumes. The fact is, despite the claims of left NDP apologists, there is really quite little that separates the NDP and Liberal campaigns ideologically or even in tone. While some might argue that this is the most "left" NDP platform in a few elections it is rather opportunistically so given that the Liberals are running on their most "left" platform in a while and even Ford could be said to have shifted towards the centre. Ford has managed to win over a few unions this time around who are backing him in an utterly misguided attempt to further the very narrow supposed interests of their immediate membership.

Horwath and crew decided to centre their campaign around the slogan of "making life affordable" which is notably boring and petty bourgeois. The concept behind it permeates the platform and the tone of the party in entirely negative ways.

As just one example, when it comes to healthcare the NDP is promising dental care "for all Ontarians". But the plan is not universal at all, it is actually-means tested and will only fully cover people in certain income brackets, another case of the NDP's recent embrace of a reactionary way to implement social policy.

Programs like this in a capitalist society should be universal for a number of reasons that I would think are perfectly obvious but not the least of which is that everyone buys into them at that point. Another is that if social programs are not universal it is much easier for future governments to roll them back, change the income threshold or eliminate them altogether.

While the ONDP's core idea of free dental care is an excellent one, not making it universal and not fully incorporating it into the general universal healthcare system and coverage is wrongheaded and actually continues with the idea that dental care is somehow not "real" healthcare and that those who can allegedly afford it should have to find coverage from private insurers. This still makes it seem somehow a "luxury" as opposed to a universal right.

It is fake populist, panders to the insurance industry and delegitimizes the program while painting it with a "fiscally responsible" brush.

The broader point though is that this framing, totally consistent with the life affordability pitch, means the party missed the opportunity to fight an election to create a new, universal healthcare program and entrench it as a right for all Ontarians. A far more inspiring path that would have set a quite different tone. But it would also have been at odds with the NDP's banal desire to present itself as a respectable, responsible government in waiting that will seamlessly take the helm of the capitalist state with little to no disruption for Bay St.

They have done this in the way they are pitching all their policies, not just dental care. The approach has singularly failed to deliver the enthusiasm of the voters.

Clearly in the public's mind nothing much distinguishes the NDP from the Liberals (or Greens) and this has allowed even a poorly led Liberal party to reassert itself as the "natural" alternative to the Tories though the NDP has tried to claim a "strategic" anti-Ford vote should mean a vote for them.

The usual "non-partisan" strategic voting campaigns have popped up and are pushing the historically unsuccessful idea of voting tactically in all ridings. One such group published a policy "report card" that makes the point that the NDP, Liberals and Greens have far more in common and that their voters have a common interest in stopping Ford.

That may be true but at this point there is a sufficient lack of desire for change in just enough of the electorate that given our flawed electoral system a Ford majority is the most probable outcome.

If that happens it will also likely mean the long overdue end of the Horwath era in the ONDP, though anyone hoping for this to herald a real shift in the party under a new leader is almost certainly dreaming of a day that will never come. The liberal rot internally runs far deeper than the leader alone and the right of the party has shown itself to be very resilient at all levels.

While Dalton McGuinty survived the Liberal loss in 1999 provincially to win power in 2003, Del Duca will probably not.

One thing that is clear is that the "vote Ford out by voting NDP" election focused approach of much of the labour movement and many organizations over the last two years appears to have not delivered the goods. And even if there is a final magical fluke of a last week NDP surge this will not somehow justify a "strategy" that needed a Hail Mary miracle at the end.

After the June 2 vote we will have to look very hard at what is to be done by the left to build resistance to what will probably be a reinvigorated Ford starting out on a second term that is sure to see renewed attacks on workers, students, public servants, tenants, people living in poverty and many others. It is also long overdue to tackle head on the bankrupt, NDP focused dead end version of "resistance" that has led us to where we are now.


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