The June 7 election of the Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party to government in Ontario means an escalation of the class war against working people, visible minorities and impoverished social layers.
The former right wing Toronto city councilor and brother of deceased Mayor Rob Ford cloaked his fiercely anti-labour agenda in populist rhetoric pitched against ‘the establishment, the downtown elites’. This allowed Doug Ford to channel mass discontent with 15 years of Liberal government cutbacks and corruption. Premier Kathleen Wynne tried to save the furniture from the fire with a late shift to the left (e.g. increasing the minimum hourly wage, promising more spending to improve health services). But her Liberal Party lost half its voters and is now reduced to a rump of seven seats in the Ontario Legislature, one shy of official party status.
The labour-based New Democratic Party, running on a mildly left-reform platform, surged to 33.6 per cent and nearly doubled its seat total to 40. Several of its best policies (re-nationalize Hydro One, free university, drug and dental care, raise taxes on the rich, build social housing and public transit) came straight from the NDP Socialist Caucus playbook.
Andrea Horwath was over-the-top ecstatic at becoming Leader of the Official Opposition, pledging to hold Ford “to account”. But this won’t do. The Tory agenda today is much more aggressive than that of right wing Premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s. The horror show must be confronted and stopped by mass protest in the streets and work places, not by reliance on polite parliamentary criticism.
NDP and union leaders should be challenged to lead the fight outside the Legislature. In fact, the labour tops should have mobilized the ranks to campaign for the NDP, to counter the threat of the rampant anti-worker agenda of Ford and his conservative hate mongers. A serious effort to expose Ford’s populist propaganda might well have won the election for the NDP. Instead many labour officials sat on their asses; some even urged ‘strategic’ voting, which meant a vote for the Liberal Party. Unforgivable. This shows why union leaders should be paid no more than the average wage of their union collective agreement. Privileges and fat expense accounts be gone! Replace the conservative bureaucrats with rank and file militants and turn the unions into instruments of class struggle.
Still, one thing is very clear: Doug Ford’s victory does not signal a unilateral shift to the right. The election rather reflects a polarization to both the left and the right. The highly disproportionate first-past-the-post electoral system perpetuates capitalist rule by usually delivering a majority of seats to parties that gain a minority of votes. On June 7 the Conservatives captured 61 per cent of the seats (76 in total) with only 40.5 per cent of the votes cast. In other words, nearly 60 per cent of those who cast ballots supported parties ostensibly to the left of the Tories. That includes the Green Party which won 4.6 per cent and (for the first time in Ontario) one seat. Taking into account a voter turnout of 58 per cent (up from 51 per cent in 2014), it is evident that only about a quarter of the electorate backed Ford Nation.
But Ford says he has a mandate to implement his policies, swiftly. What are they? He will probably begin by breaking the strike of teaching assistants at York University, CUPE Local 3903, and then repeal Bill 148, the labour law reforms that include a $15/hour minimum wage set for 2019. Next will be a tax cut of 20 per cent that will most benefit the rich. His tax credit for child care costs will not create more spaces, raise or enforce standards, or boost pay for low wage workers. No steps to build social housing, and no significant increase in health care funding are in store. On transportation, Ford pledged to take ownership of Toronto’s subway system, which could be the fast track to privatization — while bus service remains woefully inadequate.
Jobs? The $6 billion Ford says he will find in “efficiencies” translates to firing thousands of teachers, health workers and others in the public sector. Scores of schools and hospitals will be shuttered. Cuts in services will be staggering and bloody, impacting most harshly on the impoverished. Welfare rates will be rolled back and frozen. Will hydro bills shrink by 12 per cent as promised? Not likely as the private investors in Hydro One, sold off by Wynne’s Liberals, demand profit dividends. Most workers won’t miss the demise of the regressive cap-and-trade taxes, a license to pollute, but there is no climate justice plan in its stead. Hostile to indigenous people’s needs, Ford boasted he’d personally drive the bulldozer to exploit rapidly the Ring of Fire resources in Northern Ontario, with or without local consent.
On education, the Tories promised to repeal the new sex-ed curriculum but earmarked no new funds to repair crumbling school infrastructure.
Surprisingly, Ford never presented a fully costed platform. Economists estimate that the changes he promised, including tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, will create a $20 billion budget hole. The shortfall is sure to come out of the hide of the working class.
Many workers who voted for Ford expect him to put money in their pocket and deliver $1 beer. Imagine the disillusionment, indeed the raw anger, that will be felt when they realize they’re less well off.
As Karl Marx observed over 150 years ago, “The point is not to interpret the world, it is to change it.” Today, the task is not to wait for unfocussed anger at Ford to swell; it is to fan the flames of discontent, build a broad, democratic, united front against capitalist austerity. It is to provide leadership in the struggle for a Workers’ Agenda. The municipal elections in October offer an opportunity for the left to unite and confront the Ford agenda with a socialist platform. In any case, the road to effective action at all levels will entail replacing the leaders of the mainstream workers’ organizations with radical grassroots activists.
The class war is escalating. There is no denying it. The point is to wage it and to win it through mass protests, up to and including sectoral and general strikes with the aim of replacing the Ford regime with a Workers’ Government.