My conclusion from municipal elections in Ontario Oct. 25 is very simple. It is a straightforward win for right wing populism. For progressives, another sign that it is past time to take stock of what’s going down.
How to explain the voluntary descent into un-enlightenment by Toronto voters? Don’t blame the media -- the Toronto Star gave everyone all the reasons they needed to not choose Mr. Ford.
Nor can anyone say that Ford was not explicit in his views or what he now intends to do as Mayor. People voted for a mayor who will cut services, disparage the arts and culture and attack civic unions.
My friends in Toronto say it was the victory of the burbs over the city dwellers. Perhaps the urban amalgamations were a secret right wing strategy. But if they were, we missed that one and it's too late now.
In Ottawa, the defeat of Larry O’Brien by Liberal Jim Watson is welcome news, but not to be confused with a progressive shift. The Chamber of Commerce was crowing this morning over the results which delivered in their words “Larry O’Brien’s dream, pro-business council.” In my yuppie Ottawa ward, our outgoing councillor Jacques Legendre, who had been regularly endorsed by the Ottawa Labour Council, was replaced by a conservative bean counter touted to be the “fiscal conscience” of the new administration. The progressive candidate, Sheila Perry, who had the endorsement of the community groups finished third with only 16% of the vote.
I don’t want to over-react to these results. It has happened before. The Toronto burb voters who selected Ford also elected Mike Harris twice, knowing exactly what he stood for also.
Nor were all the results to the right. In Toronto ward elections, a challenge to left wing counsellor Paula Fletcher failed, and Mike Layton replaced Joe Pantalone. In Hamilton, downtown counsellor Bob Bratina was elected mayor with a focus on urban renewal and poverty. Strangely, the Hamilton Labour Council endorsed the incumbent, who finished third.
The political message from the Ontario elections is nevertheless rather clear. Ekos pollster Frank Graves thinks it full of significance for politics at every level, and he advised progressives in the Globe today to “park their indifference and contempt and take a few pages out of the increasingly successful populist playbook.”
The provocative, but compelling Chris Hedges, argues that the growth of right wing populism is the result of the collapse of the Liberal classes, from the media to the university to the church, and even to labour. Smitherman and the Star may support that view.
I see the root of the matter not among Liberals but rather closer to home. Monday’s elections underscored again the problem with progressives. OK -- let's look at how right wing populism is putting numbers on the scoreboard. But more important, lets assess why labour based campaigns really never got off the ground.
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