While I realize it is churlish to take so much pleasure in the whining and whingeing of the usually arrogant right-wing pundits, I just can’t help myself. This gaggle of ideological nut bars rarely get angry because most governments in this country have been doing their duty in dismantling the democratic, activist state for 25 years. They really thought that it was impossible — due in part to their own pernicious influence — that the idea of government actually working for people could rise from the ashes.
But when Kathleen Wynne put together a budget and a campaign platform that looked like it came from the NDP in 1975 and then actually won a majority on it? Well that’s not just heresy, it’s apostasy. The Liberals, after all, are still supposed to be a Bay Street party, doing capital’s bidding — as defined so often by these same pundits.
Beating the right-wing drum
The pundits, all nominally in favour of democracy so long as it produces anti-democratic governments, will be twisting themselves out of shape for some time to come. Here’s Kelly McParland of the National Post (headline: “Ontario election result makes perfect sense in an irrational world”) — truly rendered incoherent by the unexpected results:
“Who won is, in a big way, immaterial. Oh, the result matters to the participants, of course, and in terms of the dismal message it sends about how tolerant the Ontario voter is of Liberal abuse and mismanagement. But in the big picture, who is premier or what party won the most seats wasn’t the real issue.”
Really? Then just what is the point of elections? I wonder why McParland bothers to write his columns. But he quickly returns to suggesting maybe it did matter — and trashing Ontarians who didn’t vote for communal suicide by voting for Tim Hudak: “Ontarians seem able to hate their government, while simultaneously wanting more of it. Is this some sort of new public mania, masochism by democracy?”
So blotto is Mr. McParland from drinking his ideological Kool-Aid, it is simply impossible for him to imagine that people might actually be attracted to the idea of a party that runs on a platform of making things better for ordinary people. Only someone living in that batty libertarian universe could see an enhanced pension plan as masochism.
The National Post’s John Ivison attacked Wynne for a cynical campaign of “fear and anger” but then criticized the Progressive Conservative leader because he “…did not make enough people angry enough at the Liberals for them to ignore their misgivings about Mr. Hudak.”
No mention, however, about the cynicism demonstrated by Mr. Hudak who travelled to the U.S. to consult with some genuinely certifiable Tea Partiers about how to win the hearts and minds of Ontarians by trashing their government programs and firing those who deliver them.
And then there was the Sun chain’s Christina Blizzard addicted, apparently, to hyperbole:
“This province is morally and financially bankrupt….Yet, we’ve patted the perpetrators on the back and sent them to Queen’s Park with a licence to spend and plunder. …They will be insufferable. Watch for a festival of smug triumphalism from the Liberals. … voters had no appetite for honesty in politics. …This is a stunning Friday the 13th horror story.”
The Toronto Sun is a newspaper devoted to the Conservatives like a mother to her children “… with her ‘safe hands’ in charge of this province, we’re closer to Greece or Detroit than the witless in this city ever want to think,” wrote Sue-Anne Levy. “Wynne cares about one thing only: Clinging to Power and keeping her Liberal friends happily rolling in largesse.” And Anthony Furey, another Sun columnist chastised voters with the headline “Shame on you, Ontarians.”
And then there was the National Post’s Robyn Urbach who boldly declared: “Liberals shouldn’t mistake their majority with voter support for their mandate.” I would love to see what Urbach wrote about Stephen Harper’s mandate with virtually the same percentage of the vote for his majority. And given that NDP voters almost certainly supported virtually all of the Liberal budget and platform, that does translate into a big majority: 62.4 per cent.
Amongst the right-wing commentators it seems only Andrew Coyne could bear to tell it straight up:
“This election was very much a referendum on fiscal conservatism, and the fiscal conservatives lost. …the central issue in this campaign, unambiguously, was fiscal policy — the Liberals ran on their budget, and the Tories ran on theirs, the Million Jobs Plan. Everyone agreed this election presented the voters with a clear choice, perhaps the clearest in 20 years. And they made their choice, just as clearly.”
The possibilities of an activist government
While the right’s hardliners may be lighting their hair on fire, citizens on the other hand may actually get to see what governments used to be like. There is, of course, still a possibility that Wynne will renege on these pledges as Liberals have done historically. But just imagine if she does deliver with the most progressive budget in Canada in 20 years. It could have huge implications for politics at all levels.
Ever since the so-called “free-trade” deal with the U.S., Canadians have been sold a bill of goods by the economic and political elites about there “being no alternative” to small, mean, punitive and arrogant government. With the NDP’s apparent abandonment of principle in favour of crass opportunism and consumer populism, it seemed activist government was well and truly buried.
If Wynne wants to have a really extraordinary legacy she has a golden opportunity — and a powerful personal mandate. Progressive politicians can pitch good policies until the cows come home but the impact of actually seeing them work could be enormous: an executed plan is worth a thousand pledges. Wynn’s $15-billion mass transit plan is huge in terms of reducing Ontario’s climate footprint. Providing retirees with greater income security is something almost every government knows is critically necessary. Her pledge to raise the pay of the lowest paid health- and child-care workers directly addresses the issue of inequality. The rest of the platform was pretty interesting, too.
I can think of three positive outcomes of Wynne carrying out her pledges — besides her actual program. Most important is demonstrating to voters across the country that governments can do things that make their lives better — voting can make a difference. When the punditry puzzle over how the Liberals could have won despite a litany of corruption charges and large deficits, consider this possibility: the tired mantra about deficits and debt (and the scary bond-raters) suddenly takes its rightful place in the political firmament when it has to compete with real public goods and higher taxes on the undeserving rich.
Secondly, if this does start a trend towards more rational and less ideological politics (like actually addressing the $160-billion infrastructure deficit across Canada) the NDP might once again find the courage to run campaigns and engage the public on social democratic principles. After all, if they are going to mimic the Liberals to get to the centre, better they mimic Wynne (who is moving the centre to the left). NDPers everywhere would thank her (notwithstanding the irony that it took a Liberal to push the fiscal boundary — sort of like Nixon recognizing China).
Lastly, though there may not be time for this to play out, a government representing over a third of the country’s population actually pursuing an activist agenda could make things very difficult for Stephen Harper’s continued assault on democratic governance. The 905 area surrounding Toronto went solidly Liberal in this election and it is these voters that Harper must have to win even a minority in 2015. If they are happy with Wynne’s performance, Harper could be in serious trouble.