Cracked, but still on track

rob_ford_vice2by Barry Weisleder
Too much ink already has been spilled to expose the antics of Toronto’s crack smoking, drunk driving, serial lying, gangster-linked mayor. The butt of late night comedy TV, Rob Ford is merely the unvarnished version of the establishment hardware.
But behind the ongoing Rob Ford soap opera are a few noteworthy points.
  1. The bourgeoisie in Canada’s biggest city is far from infallible. They committed a whopping error of judgement. By backing Ford, as some high rollers did, to channel popular resentment against the liberal-social democratic David Miller City Hall regime, and for failing to stop Ford (despite his well known fatal flaws) prior to the 2010 municipal election, the corporate elite got much more instability than they bargained for.
  2. When embarrassed and beset by the eccentric, belligerent and obstinate Ford brothers (suburban city councillors Doug and Rob), the city fathers didn’t stand on ceremony. They wielded, twisted and re-purposed the rules to strip Rob Ford of his mayoral powers to appoint and initiate. But be very certain of this: in the event that Toronto ever elects a socialist mayor, the agents of Capital will use the same select punitive procedures to hobble an insurgent left. Ergo the need to base a Labour City Hall on mobilized workers outside the stately edifice.
  3. The capitalist austerity agenda remains intact and on track. Unaffected, and perhaps abetted by the tantrums, abject apologies and woozy spectacles of distraction, are the policies that keep the burden of funding Toronto’s crumbling infrastructure on cash-strapped workers, seniors and the poor, while minimizing the taxation of the super-rich. While the business media declared war on the Fords, there is no business war being waged against poverty, homelessness, traffic gridlock, inadequate childcare, and environmental degradation. The only war we see is on workers, like garbage collectors, bus drivers, and rec centre staff. If City Hall pushed progressive change at the speed pipelines will move hazardous bitumen though Canada’s most densely populated urban corridor, a new day would truly be dawning.
    The question is, why have leaders of the unions and the NDP, and all the so-called ‘progressives’ presently on Toronto city council, not seized on the Ford debacle to trash the corporate agenda and set the stage for transformative action on inequality and urban decay?
Because that would require a break with higher user fees and putting a halt to pandering to big business as practiced by the David Miller/Joe Pantalone regime.
Instead, Toronto’s labour leadership is taking workers down the primrose path of liberal, middle class politics towards the October 2014 municipal election.
Rather than host a convention of labour activists and members of the labour-based New Democratic Party across Toronto and York Region to adopt policies and to select candidates to fight for a Labour City Hall, we witness a relapse to the tactics that utterly failed in 2010.
The “Municipal Political Action Conference”, sponsored by Toronto and York Region Labour Council on November 16, was “designed for everyone who plans to get involved in the 2014 Municipal/School Board elections”. That meant it didn’t matter what are one’s policies and what are one’s links to big business parties, like the Liberal Party. Ignored is the reality that the Liberals share responsibility for cutbacks, privatizing public services, giving tax breaks to the rich, and curtailing the right to strike.
Quite revealing was the fact that the conference “Guest Speaker” was Jeremy Bird, former National Field Director for the 2012 re-election Campaign of President Barack Obama. Bird, readers will recall, was the target of a high profile protest which forced him to cut short his speech at the NDP federal convention in Montreal in April 2013. It is shameful, and sadly indicative, that Toronto and York Region Labour Council officials would invite this ‘field director’ for the pro-austerity, pro-big business bail-out, drone-wars regime in Washington.
The lessons of the failed David Miller mayorship, and the feckless 2010 ‘labour’ municipal campaign, are glaring. The situation cries out for a political alternative.
Instead of a multi-class, liberal smorgasbord of candidates and policies, labour needs an election team that demands: a free and greatly expanded rapid transit system, reversal of the cutbacks and privatizations, the mass construction of quality social housing to curb homelessness and poverty, a big expansion of quality childcare, and much greater support for the arts, parkland, and community sports facilities. To fund this agenda it is necessary to heavily tax the big land developers, property speculators, big businesses, the banks, religious institutions, and the rich.
The corporate elite is scrambling to find their ‘unity’ candidate for mayor. Perhaps it will be former provincial Conservative leader John Tory, or a right wing city councillor like Denzil Minnan-Wong or Karen Stintz.
So now is the time for the left to seize the opportunity. Ford’s fall from grace, and the momentary disarray of the right wing on city council is just the occasion to convene a real Labour Political Action Conference aimed at choosing policies and candidates to fight for, and to win a Workers’ Government at Toronto City Hall in 2014.