Fighting the normalization of right-wing ideology, from Ford to Kenney

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

Sometime in January, a list, a very long list, documenting all the attacks by Doug Ford's government on Ontario's social services, safety nets and support systems began to take shape on my Facebook profile page.

Somewhere around the 100 crimes-against-citizens mark, the list, fact-checked by many, got shared by my friends, and their friends, and eventually went viral. It's still circulating out there in the social mediasphere, getting longer by the day.

I too have been adding to the original list, barely able to keep up with all the announcements, pronouncements and chops to health care, education and even firefighting services wielded by Ford Nation while horse racing gets a $10-million annual boost and the premier's cronies and bagmen get appointed to head Crown corporations.

Which must be part of the plan. Follow outrage with another outrage so that the outrage before the latest outrage gets forgotten.

Hence the need for lists -- and there's more than one meme-ified listicle going around.

These rapid-fire assaults on "the people" that Ford purportedly champions are reminiscent of Donald Trump's tactic, inadvertent or deliberate, of spitting out diversionary tweets whenever CNN or MSNBC focus on his sympathy for white nationalism or his wall or on what he calls the "witchhunt."

In Ontario, no sooner do we hear about new slogans and new logos on car license plates  than comes news that all gas stations will be hit with fines up to $10,000 for not sticking Conservative Party anti-carbon tax decals to their pumps. Oh, and taxpayers are paying for those stickers, plus a radio ad campaign, plus a follow-up TV buy in Ford's $30-million fight against what he deems to be a recession-causing tax. Go figure.

This week, in the wake of the Ontario Conservatives' first budget, my list topped 145 items, totaling billions in cuts to what keeps Ontarians healthy, educated, cared for and safe. Nothing drastic happened in the budget, mind you. Not many wholesale amputations. Just a painful slice here, and another one there, no inflationary increases and other insults -- to the environment, health care, children, immigrants, education, First Nations peoples, victims of violence, people with disabilities and even Toronto transit riders.

To name a few.

Where Doug and his Buckabeers really poured it on was in the alcohol column, opening up beer and wine sales to grocery stores, extending drinking hours, legalizing tailgate parties in stadium parking lots and allowing restaurants to serve liquor at 9 a.m., ostensibly for the mimosa and eggs benedict bunch. Casinos will be able to advertise free drinks to "level the playing field" with U.S. competitors and happy hour is here again as bars will be able to promote their 5-7 boozy bargains.

As CBC Queens Park reporter Mike Crawley tweeted, "The word 'alcohol' or 'beer' appears 46 times in the Doug Ford government's first budget. The words 'teacher' or 'teachers' appears 25 times. #onpoli"

Also on Twitter, Toronto City Councillor Joe Cressy noted, "Number of times Doug Ford's budget mentioned the words 'alcohol' or 'beer': 46. Number of times 'poverty' was mentioned: 0. Priorities."

Somewhere on Facebook, I stumbled on yet another meme, this time a literary one quoting from a bit in George Orwell's 1984: "…beer, and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult…."

That could be the theme of the Con playbook.

On the morning after the United Conservative Party won a decisive victory in Alberta, Ford got up in the legislature to celebrate "the Blue Wave" washing over Canada. Sure, he forgot the premier-to-be Jason Kenney's name while doing so but his point was made. The right will stick together to fight for fossil fuels and against the Liberals in Ottawa.

Meanwhile, the left is increasingly splintered, most recently over the SNC-Lavalin non-scandal scandal.

Given how Canada's right lines up against environmental regulation, against helping the poor and the marginalized, against safeguarding reproductive choice, against respecting labour, organized or otherwise, against higher education, LGBTI rights, clean water and more, the nightmare scenario of right-wing ideology becoming normalized here as it is becoming in Europe and the United States suddenly feels very possible.

No wonder many on the left are concerned that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom many progressives didn't and don't support, will be battling against not just federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer but also a line-up of five right-wing premiers in this year's federal election.

And so Trudeau and his party might do well to make their own list, check it twice and get it out to as many voters as possible before they forget what's going to hit them.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

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