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Big Biz comes out ahead in Toronto city election

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Chow snatches defeat from the jaws of victory
by Barry Weisleder
Big business scored a big win in the October 28 Toronto municipal election. While voters rejected the mayoral bid of ultra-conservative, bully-Councillor Doug Ford, they put Bay Street big wig and corporate fixer John Tory into the top job in Canada’s biggest city. Ex-New Democrat MP Olivia Chow marginalized herself with one of the least effective city campaigns in memory.
Doug Ford was a last-minute stand-in for his drug-addicted, cancer-afflicted, younger brother Rob Ford. For four years, Rob was Toronto’s right wing populist rogue mayor, and the butt of international late night TV comedy.
Tory won with 40 per cent of the city-wide votes cast. Ford attracted 34 per cent, and Chow trailed with 23 per cent. The turnout was 61 per cent — a significant rise from 51 per cent in 2010. In Mississauga to the west, only 36 per cent bothered to vote.
At his victory party, John Tory, who was briefly leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, and for a longer stint was CEO at the Canadian Football League, crowed that the result put an “end to the division that has paralyzed City Hall.” The strongly pro-Liberal Party Toronto Star seemed to agree, hailing the “return to normalcy”. A look at Tory’s platform reveals that it has much in common with the Fords’ agenda — minus the soap-operatic drama.
Tory pledged to privatize garbage collection on the east side of the city, following the Ford union-busting initiative west of Yonge Street. Tory promised no new taxes on the rich. He offered no social housing construction plan, and no measures to alleviate poverty and hunger in the city. His answer to traffic congestion, now at epic proportions, is a pie-in-the-sky scheme that involves borrowing billions and hoping for higher property tax revenues at future rapid transit stops.
imagesOlivia Chow, widow of deceased federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, led in opinion polls from January to June, but faltered over the summer months. Chow’s vacuous message “New Mayor. Better City.”, and her weak style, led establishment and middle class forces, who were desperate to purge Toronto of the Ford embarrassment, to rally behind John Tory’s “sensible” option. It is no wonder that the two campaigns were so similar in their blandness. Chow’s was run by Liberal and NDP honchos. Tory’s was headed by Conservative and Liberal wags. It was a difference without a distinction.
Chow shifted slightly to the left after Labour Day. She advanced the idea of a higher property transfer tax on residences that sell for over $2 million. But it was too little, too late. For ten long months she said nothing about police racial profiling and deadly shootings by cops, nor about the imminent flow of environment-threatening bitumen through pipe Line 9 across the top of the city.
Chow followed in the footsteps of Andrea Horwath, the Ontario NDP Leader, whose Spring provincial election campaign failed in similar ways. Their common error: fiscal conservatism that alienates a left working class base, while proving unable to win support among the affluent or in business circles.
The composition of the new city council is not unlike the outgoing one. Thirty-six incumbents were re-elected to fill the 44 council seats – producing a snake pit of hard line conservatives, compromising liberals, and soft-on-austerity New Democrats.
In other words, the neo-liberal agenda of cutbacks and privatization is alive and well. Residents and workers face four more years of battles against austerity measures, while poverty, violence and congestion increase.
The election was also a magnet for racism, sexism and homophobia, which ‘Ford Nation’ steadily PJT-FordFest-25.jpgexcreted and excused. Among the targets were Chow, councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (an open lesbian, re-elected in Ward 27) and school trustee candidate Ausma Malik (elected in Ward 19). Most Torontonians rejected bigotry, but did so in a neo-liberal context that defined the political alternatives as ‘progressivism’ versus ‘conservatism’, rather than posing class against class, or socialism versus capitalism.
What should the workers’ movement do in such an untenable situation?
Demand a break from the disastrous political treadmill of vacuous ‘progressivism’, which is just a cunning mask for capitalist austerity. Launch the fight for a Labour City Hall, based on direct action and socialist policies.
The first step, as we argued two years ago, and earlier, is to demand that the NDP and Toronto and York Region Labour Council convene a mass municipal political action convention. Such a gathering should be held in 2016. It should shoulder the task of adopting a Workers’ Agenda and selecting a team of candidates for all city offices who will be accountable to working people through their mass organizations.
Now is the time to start moving forward on this course, while mobilizing in the streets and communities against the coming attacks sure to emanate from a city hall that operates more and more like a subsidiary of Corporate Canada.
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SA candidate got 9% in Mississauga
tlheadshotSocialist Action candidate for School Board Trustee in Mississauga Wards 3/4, Evan Engering, received 1,322 votes, 9 per cent of the total votes cast in that election race.
This is the first time Socialist Action, founded in 1994, presented a candidate in an election for public office. Evan Engering, a leading member of Youth for Socialist Action, a young worker and a member of UFCW, is now a student at Sheridan College. His campaign relied on social media, a web site, a cable TV appearance, and a modest leaflet — with no funds for lawn signs, a campaign office, or flashy advertizing.
But when over one thousand people in a working class section of Mississauga vote for an openly socialist candidate it is no fluke. It demonstrates a real interest in radical change. Socialist Action will soon explore the extent of this new attraction to socialist ideas by hosting a public meeting in the community 20 minutes west of Toronto.

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.

 

When will they ever learn?

Once again, the leadership of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council and of several key union affiliates, 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 platform policies and to select candidates to fight for a Labour City Hall, we see a relapse to the tactics that failed us in 2010.
The “Municipal Political Action Conference”, set for November 16, 2013 at 89 Chestnut Street, is “designed for everyone who plans to get involved in the 2014 Municipal/School Board elections”. That means regardless anyone’s policies and regardless their links to big business parties, like the Liberal Party, which bear responsibility for cutbacks, privatizing public services, giving tax breaks to the rich, and curtailing the right to strike.
It is quite revealing that the “Guest Speaker” at the Conference is Jeremy Bird, former National Field Director for the 2012 re-election Campaign of President Barack Obama. Obama is the chief executive tool of Wall Street who bailed out the world’s biggest criminal corporations. Obama wages endless wars of occupation around the world, propping up racist, sexist, homophobic rule abroad and at home.
What about Jeremy Bird? He 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, big business, drone-wars regime in Washington.
The lessons of the failed David Miller mayorship and the feckless 2010 ‘labour’ municipal campaign are there for all to see. On the reverse side of this leaflet, read the analysis issued by Socialist Action in the immediate aftermath of the entirely preventable Rob Ford victory.
Instead of a multi-class, liberal smorgasbord of candidates and policies, labour needs an election team that demands: free public transit, a major expansion of the rapid transit system, reverse the cutbacks and privatization, build quality social housing to curb homelessness, and to fund this agenda, tax the developers, big business, the banks, religious institutions, and the rich.
stubbornRemember the old adage: The first time you fool me, shame on you. The second time you fool me, shame on me.
Don’t be fooled again. Protest the invitation of US Democratic Party imperialist hack Jeremy Bird. No support for Liberal, Conservative, Green Party, or ‘independent’ candidates. Turn the Political Action Conference into a policy-making, candidate selection gathering aimed at fighting for, and winning a Workers’ Government at City Hall in 2014.
Join Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste
visit: www.socialistaction.ca phone: 416-535-8779
What led to Rob Ford’s win?
The ‘realistic left’ at Toronto City Hall blew it. Thanks to them, the municipal election was a write-off.
By pandering to big developers and the rich, by targeting civic workers instead of tax-withholding banks, by hiking user fees (and politicians’ perks) while slashing community services, David Miller and company pushed tens of thousands of working people into the boa constrictor-like embrace of Rob Ford and George Smitherman.
Joe Pantalone, the hapless apologist for the Liberal-NDP coalition government, Joe ‘Pants’, the Bob Rae of City Council, alienated his base and deprived voters of a principled, independent working class alternative to the big business right wing, right from the start.
Many unionists and progressives in Canada’s biggest city were stunned by the scope of the victory of right wing populist Councillor Rob Ford in the race for mayor. Equally disturbing, an increased number of Ford-like labour-haters captured seats on Toronto City Council on October 25 — possibly enough to fashion a voting majority to implement an agenda of severe social and culture cuts, plus privatization and contracting-out measures.
The turnout of 52 per cent of eligible voters, compared to 39 per cent in 2006, rewarded candidates who promised “change”. Ford received 47 per cent of the votes cast. Former Ontario Liberal Health Minister George Smitherman, running on a similar programme of austerity and privatization, got 36 per cent.
Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, propped up by a disintegrating band of labour tops and fellow Councillors, came third with 12 per cent.  Pantalone helped to steer the informal Liberal Party-New Democratic Party coalition that ran Toronto City Hall for seven years. That regime not only raised taxes and increased user fees while reducing public services. It forced 30,000 municipal workers into a bitter 40 day strike over wages and pensions. It abused workers and whetted the appetite of the corporate elite for more labour concessions.
A stormy period of clashes over the fate of city jobs and services is now in store. Hopefully, there will be mass resistance to the corporate agenda. If there is, it may hasten the realization that unions must break with the Liberals and fight for an up-front NDP-Labour slate of candidates committed to socialist policies prior to the next municipal vote in 2014.
How can this be done? Long before the next city election, after voters have digested the bitter fruit of opportunism, it will be time to return to the future. Labour and the NDP should convene a broad, mass, participatory convention to fashion a socialist platform and select candidates who can be held accountable to it, to run for all municipal offices. Just as the NDP and labour did in the 1960s and 70s, before the left-populism of Sewell and Crombie dulled our senses and muddled the class line at City Hall, a workers’ slate can be built again.
Union activists: Demand that independent working class party politics be reintroduced to the municipal arena. Fight for electoral reform, including preferential ballots.Give workers a real choice. Otherwise, the tragedy of October 25 will become a permanent farce – at the expense of the working class and our urban environment.

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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