Ontario’s election won’t really start until the Liberal-NDP fight is settled

The battle before the battle. The first decision in Ontario’s election is who will be Conservative Leader Doug Ford’s main opponent: Liberals or NDP. If no one wins that, Ford wins, it’s already over. They’ll split the “left” vote, giving Ford an irrational majority per our stupid first-past-the-post system. . It’s the Stephen Harper scenario for nine years in power without ever winning a majority of votes.

 

Others have noticed this. Justin Trudeau, exhausted by minority calculations, made a rickety pact with the NDP in Ottawa. In France, the two left parties have now done a deal. Labour in the U.K. is dickering with the Liberal Democrats.

It’s amazing there’s even a conflict to resolve. Andrea Horwath’s New Dems should’ve won the last election easily and should be the main alternative to Ford. Instead, the Liberals have pulled ahead of them in polls. How?

Blandness, perhaps. On day one, Horwath said, “There are people in this province who need homes and we’re here to say, You can have homes.” That’s really what you’re here to say? She addresses voters as “Friends,” clearly a strategic decision. It’s what Doug Ford also says (instead of “Folks”), doubtless after costly polling. It makes both sound like Quakers, or people who’ve been around each other too much. She says the main goal is to ditch Doug, a tricky point since he hasn’t been as bad as expected — though he could’ve been way better.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has been surprising in his ability to sharply focus issues. Ban handguns. Period. Free public transit everywhere. Build or fix schools and pay for that by not funding dumb, counterproductive highways. Union legend Madeleine Parent used to say workers want to hear specifics, not slogans, but in clear language. The NDP platform on public transit, au contraire, sounds like a brief to the zoning committee (“Work with… Move forward on…”).

A peripheral but intriguing issue is, Who’s the real progressive? I think you could say that a smart, incremental approach to socialism — if anyone still cares about that — would mean making additional needed services free or nearly free, as we have with public education and health care. Why not public transit next? Why should we pay as riders when we’ve already paid as citizens?

Horwath would dole out funds to local bodies to help “bring down” fares. But that way we’ll never get there. If you start by being there (“Buck a ride, province-wide”) then it’s a given and you somehow, as with health care, find the money for it instead of expending huge volumes of verbiage on whether you can afford it.

 

RICK SALUTIN
is a Canadian novelist, playwright, journalist, and critic and has been writing for more than forty years. Until October 1, 2010, he wrote a regular column in The Globe and Mail; on February 11, 2011, he began a weekly column in the Toronto Star. He currently teaches a half course on Canadian media and culture in University College (CDN221) at the University of Toronto. He is a contributing editor of This Magazine. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Near Eastern and Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and got his Master of Arts degree in religion at Columbia University. He also studied philosophy at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He was once a trade union organizer in Toronto and participated in the Artistic Woodwork strike.[