Design for Democracy: Hope begins at the ballot box

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"Hope is coming."

- Tim Hudak, televised leaders' debate on June 3

Hope is resilient; power gained by disinformation is brittle and punitive. What Tim Hudak offers is not hope for a healthier democracy or more jobs. As an educator and sustainable designer, I predict that if Tim Hudak becomes Premier of Ontario, his core mandate will be to extend the environmentally destructive policies of the Conservative government from the federal to the provincial level. The federal Conservatives have been waiting for the trifecta of control -- federal, provincial and municipal -- so that their exclusionary policies can consolidate wealth in the hands of the private sector, and mining and energy projects, such as Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline, can be pushed through without public consultation or environmental assessment. To move quickly and remove public oversight on these projects, Hudak will curtail media coverage so that constituents cannot oppose new resource developments, and growing public support for renewable energy is silenced.

As Harper has cut back funding for the CBC, if Hudak becomes premier, he will likely cut funding for TVOntario (TVO), focusing first on shows with political debates, such as Steve Paikin's The Agenda. We will become less and less informed about the government, so less likely to vote, playing into the hands of the Conservatives, who know that demographically, their constituents are most likely to turn up on voting day. Passed on May 13, Bill C-23: The Fair Elections Act, was the precursor to disengaging the electorate by making it difficult to register, and as Hudak has recently asked for official reports to monitor Line 9 opponents, surveillance and detention at rallies will be ramped up to shut down lawful public opposition. No media to cover the protests and fewer protesters -- an ideal state for Conservative control. Next, our Charter rights for freedom of speech and association will be rewritten to justify online surveillance. The increasing surveillance of social media networks is a deliberate pushback from the government on the public sphere -- they are afraid of informed consensus and dialogue to provide alternate solutions to 'business as usual' projects before people realize climate change will impact their health, jobs, home, and insurance rates, and if they are farmers, their crops.

Ontario under Hudak

How else will the future of Ontario look under Hudak's leadership? Students will have less access to university education as marks will be tied to scholarships, health care will be fractured into a private/public two-tier system, and transit expansion will be based upon subways, with no money for the promised electrification of the Union-Pearson Express in 2017. Subways are the preference for Conservatives; they enable profitable air rights to be sold above them and serve their constituents in the wealthy suburbs, although their limited corridor excludes the lower-income demographic in the inner suburbs, who are less likely to vote for them.

I have ridden subway systems throughout Japan, Brazil, Europe and the U.S., and by scrapping all plans for light rail transit, the Conservatives are proposing the least integrated and most expensive transit plan, which serves the fewest people (see the Pembina Institute's analysis). This is not hope or progress; this is wasting billions of dollars by not building key infrastructure properly in the first place. The Green Party, led by Mike Schreiner, has the best transit platform by far, but in a Catch-22, was not allowed at the televised debate as the party holds no seats at Queen's Park. This is a shame, really, as the Green Party's platform would re-engage younger voters by forcing a cross-party conversation about National Transit Strategy and Food Security, two programs central to the heart of many farmers and commuters.

Nowhere on Hudak's campaign website are the words "diversity" or "climate change"; it is as if the last 20 years have never happened. Hudak's campaign describes Ontario as a veritable utopia in ten years, with a balanced budget and perfect employment, but with no master plan for how he will implement this Heaven on Earth. The "Gravy Train" worked for Mayor Rob Ford; the "1 Million Jobs Plan. Ontario. Working. Better." is Hudak's simplistic campaign slogan, and could work to elect him if math and grammar can be ignored, and words can be ended with periods to showcase his. decisive. nature.

With the exception of the loss of 100,000 public sector jobs and a 30 per cent decrease in corporate taxes, Tim Hudak has not revealed how he will implement his platform. He debates with his palms outstretched to indicate openness and generosity of spirit, posturing in direct opposition to his policies. His campaign is the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes as he takes less from the corporate till to feed the multitudes. "Trust in me," he is signalling. "As a paternal figure, I will take care of all your needs." In this case, taking care of our needs means not representing diversity in the changing multicultural and aging demographics, losing jobs through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and depleting natural resources.

More predictions? Under Hudak, Ontario will see the recurrence of symptoms from the Great Depression, with very high unemployment rates and the growth of a precariat class, stumbling from freelance contract to contract, with no hope of a stable income or union representation. At the beginning of his campaign, Hudak backed off bringing in American-style "right-to-work" legislation as the pushback was too great, but he will re-introduce this legislation and try to break the Rand formula for unions within two years of taking office. And if Hudak follows Harper, he will replace the public sector employees in Ontario with a more expensive shadow class of private consultants to advise him on privatization. As Kathleen Wynne has said: "How can Ontarians trust him to confront Stephen Harper when Tim Hudak shares so many of his values, ideals and policies?"

A collaborative economy and sustainable future for Ontario

What the Conservatives do not want us to know about is the coming "collaborative economy," an economy in which people barter services, share resources and purchase less, while forming community. Part of this community-building has already happened; part will be necessitated by a future recession created by job loss. In Toronto's Dufferin Grove Park, change agent Jutta Mason, came up with the idea of Friday night suppers so that people got to know each other. She had lived through Nazi Germany, and felt that people would have protected each other had they been part of an interwoven community. My neighbourhood listserv passes on information about passing on outgrown children's toys and clothes, exchanging child-care services and sharing tools for gardening. Why buy, when you can share, and only need something occasionally? Walk down the street, and borrow it from a neighbour; a throwback to the Depression-era's getting a cup of sugar.

There are "efficiencies" to be found to balance the $12.5-billion deficit in Ontario, but they are savings gained through the natural attrition of the public sector as employees retire, and the collective envisioning of socially innovative solutions provided by citizens through open-source democracy, free for the government, if they trusted that their input will be utilized with transparent application for public good. I have seen citizens providing pro bono climate change and transit strategies again and again through the campaigns I worked on with the Clean Train Coalition, Stop the MegaQuarry!, and NOJets TO. A public consultation re-considering the Ontario Green Energy Act might make the funding work again, with crowdsourced research and project initiatives. And citizens such as Karren Wallace have been mobilized to protect farmland through the Stop the Mega Quarry campaign, and run for the Green Party in Dufferin-Caledon.

The opposite of the surveillance state is to work with those envisioning a sustainable future to incorporate their ideas, and having a hard conversation about the quality of life we want to have in Ontario. Do we want to grow our own food, drink clean water and have affordable transit? Then we need to protect farmland and our source water, and develop national strategies for transit and food security. The cynicism of those under 30 is partially due to this generation being accustomed to instant feedback while finding solutions on social media forums, in comparison to the slow movement of government to act on key issues such as climate change. These are the very people who must be convinced to vote in this election -- the disengaged, younger voters, who see only contractual work in their future, urban and rural farmers, and public sector employees -- those who are able to provide answers, but feel that their future is out of their hands.

It would help if we all had hope, so that we can regain control of our province and its future. We can do better than the platform provided by Tim Hudak; we are quicker, smarter and lighter on our feet. We must vote to choose a government who is willing to listen to our innovative ideas. Ontario's citizens have a lot to say, but it must begin at the ballot box. 

Elizabeth Littlejohn teaches sustainable design, social innovation and new media. The column "Design for Democracy" focuses on sustainable design solutions for a greener future.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Littlejohn.

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