Right Wing Meltdown is No Cure for Austerity

Right wing governments in Canada seem to be on the ropes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is mired in scandals, the latest centred on a $90,000 payoff by his former chief of staff to cover-up misappropriation of funds by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. Three Tory Senators accused of padding their expense claims now sit outside the Tory caucus as ‘independents’ while the RCMP investigates.

Toronto’s ‘stop the gravy train’ Mayor Rob Ford claims he doesn’t use crack cocaine. But two Toronto Star reporters, and the owner of U.S. web site Gawker, swear they saw hizzonner in a video sucking the smokey contents of a crack pipe. Five staffers quit the Mayor’s office in the two weeks after the news broke. Ford insists there is no such video, but according to inside sources, he confided to his staff that he knew the location of the hidden video. And one of the people pictured partying with Ford was found by police dead of gun shot wounds.

Montreal’s mayor, Gérald Tremblay, resigned in early November in the midst of an eyebrow-raising inquiry that revealed widespread corruption among city officials, contractors and members of organized crime. Just a few days later, Gilles Vaillancourt, the head of Quebec’s third-largest city, Laval, quit in the same context.

The Ontario minority Liberal government was rocked by revelations that it spent nearly $1 Billion to cancel the construction of unpopular gas plants west of Toronto, just to save Liberal seats in the Fall 2011 provincial election.  After months of denial, and failure by former Premier Dalton McGuinty to release thousands of pages of incriminating evidence, new Premier Kathryn Wynne apologized for the wasteful fiasco.

Media pundits call it a right wing meltdown. It’s entertaining. It sells papers. In the case of Toronto, there was even a side benefit — it helped to kill a harmful downtown mega-casino project. But, looking at the big picture, scandal is no cure for austerity. Severe cutbacks and attacks on employment insurance, pensions, public services, environmental protection, scientific information-gathering and civil liberties continue apace. The fact is, such measures are integral to the corporate agenda in force, regardless the political stripe of the ruling party.

The situation in Toronto further illustrates the deeper problem. Liberals and social democrats, the main city council opposition to Ford’s wilting ultra-right wing, are chomping at the bit. They yearn to introduce new gas and sales taxes. They promote service fees, parking levies and road tolls to fund rapid transit projects urgently needed to relieve traffic gridlock.

Instead of proposing to tax big business, giant banks, wealthy developers, rich property owners and untaxed religious institutions, Ford’s opposition and the business media agitate for regressive taxes (the kind not based on ability to pay), which hit workers, seniors, students and the poor the hardest.

All of which goes to show what the real problem is. It’s the system. It matters little which eccentric leader, or authoritarian big wig, or capitalist party happens to be at the top.

Scandals are just a sign of divisions in the ruling class. They can be interesting, even mildly satisfying when they (however temporarily) humble the arrogant.

But scandal mongering is no substitute for mass action. Working class political action is what’s needed now to stop labour concessions, to reverse social cuts, to restore and extend democratic rights – in short, to win a Workers’ Agenda.

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