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All the political parties can agree: It's the hardworkingmiddleclass, stupid!

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Image: wikimedia commons

Has there ever been a moment when the political class was so united? When, from every point on the ideological spectrum, they join in pledging allegiance? And to what? Or perhaps whom? To nothing less than the hard-working middle class, whoever they or it might be. Is Sophie concerned about Justin's swooning over this apparently irresistible body?

Needless to say, this consensus is not remotely fair. Who, after all, is looking after the interests of the filthy rich, the 1%? Tough break, plutocrats. You're on your own. Nobody cares a fig for anything but the hard-working thingamajigs, and even though the benefits they actually receive are negligible, they must be chuffed that politicians talk about nothing else.

Look at Ontario's two by-elections the other day. The hardworking, etc., were the big winners. Heck, they couldn't lose. Hardworkingmiddleclass-loving Conservatives won in Thornhill and the harworkingmiddleclass-loving NDP won in Niagara Falls.

Of course there were losers, and not just the reigning Liberals, who were splendidly crushed in both seats. Naturally Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party and by his own insistence a reliably rabid ultra-conservative, let another one slip away. It's an axiom: You can't really have any kind of election in Ontario without "Tea Party Tim" blowing it. And despite the assertion that the NDP emerged the big winner, its margin in Niagara Falls indicates that it's a tad early to start decorating those cabinet ministers' offices yet.

Just the day before the by-election, polls were showing NDP candidate Wayne Gates ahead of the Conservative candidate 48-33, a fine old landslide. Twenty-four hours later, Mr. Gates squeaked into Queen's Park by about 1,000 votes, 39 per cent to 37 per cent. The NDP might want to review its electoral strategy.

Where did those promised votes go? Mr. Hudak's people accused the NDP of being run by labour "elites" or "bosses." Specifically, Wayne Gates was accused of being a Trojan horse for former CAW boss Buzz Hargrove and the extremely dangerous world communist conspiracy. These harebrained smears seemed pathetically laughable, a sure reflection of both Tory desperation and ineptitude. But something transformed a landslide into a squeaker virtually overnight. Was it Marx? Buzz? Maybe Mr. Hudak will want to re-examine his latest decision against union-bashing after all.

As for the NDP's Andrea Horwath, it's true that she's doing swimmingly, especially since -- or maybe because -- it's not immediately evident what she stands for or what she would do as premier, other than govern on behalf of you-know-who. Maybe the sweet smell of success trumps the reasons you want to win.

Ms. Horwath seems to have lots of public support, but I wonder how motivated her troops can be by a social democratic party that remains reprehensibly mute about the minimum wage for an eternity and finally endorses the government's own new minimum that will keep workers in poverty. And where would a Horwath government get enough dough to build a better, more just Ontario? Or is that not her goal? Who knows? Has Andrea Horwath become the NDP's Justin Trudeau, all personality, no substance?

The federal NDP, too, seems to be emphasising rather more modest aims than the old-fashioned ideals of social justice and equality. Once the party wanted to control Canada's banks. Now it's making a big foofaraw about bankers charging ATM fees to non-customers. I can dig that. Every once in a while I'm forced to use a bank machine not belonging to my bank and I have to pay a fee of between $1.50 and $2 for the privilege. The actual transaction probably costs no more than a few pennies, so someone is making usurious profits. I calculate that the NDP's proposed cap on these exorbitant fees would save me a dollar or a dollar fifty a crack, maybe $35 a year.

I've spent a bunch of my life marching for great causes. I've marched against nuclear weapons. I've marched for human rights and against war. I marched with Occupy and marched for labour rights and marched against violence against women. And now -- do we march for $35 a year?

I'm sure your average hardworkingmiddleclass family will be glad to get a few bucks more this way. Who wouldn't? But as a step in reversing unprecedented inequality and easing the relentless squeeze on the shaken middle class, it leaves something to be desired. As for the poor, that, I suppose, must be a cause for another day.

Is this what progressivism means in 2014? Could this be why the 1% isn't exactly panicking that everyone's ignoring them?

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Image: wikimedia commons

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