Observations on Ontario's election: Changebook

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The Ontario PC platform and MC Hammer pants: Some things really shouldn't make a comeback.

(Or "Plus ça change[book], plus c'est la même chose")

Ahhh, social media.

It turns nouns into verbs, though the rules are still being worked out (you can text a friend, but so far no one can figure out how to friend a text).

It allows children to Skype their play dates without leaving their computer desk. (The PhysEd teachers can worry about the suggested 60 minutes of daily activity.)

It breathes new life into old words (like "pad", "pod" or "book") simply by adding the letter "i-" at the beginning.

And it has transformed political campaigning in the U.S. and in Canada.

So should we be surprised to find Ontario politicians glomming on to social media themes in a frenzied attempt to make certain out-moded concepts as hip and cool as that Fonzie character all the young people are talking about? In the lead-up to an Ontario election, we've been treated to a new generation of Mike Harris disciples pulling out earlier drafts of the Common Sense Revolution, dusting them off and reintroducing them as the policy mash-up equivalent of an i-pad and skinny jeans.

I'm speaking, of course, of a certain true-blue platform -- one that cuts and pastes "haven't I heard this somewhere before" commonsense-y rhetoric into a campaign document, adds a few techie flourishes and calls it...

(Wait for it...)

Change!

Well, changebookTM, to be precise (get it? Like facebook! OMG -- like!).

changebookTM is about change (and not just because it abides by the "thou shalt use the word 'change' a minimum of twice on each page to ensure maximum exposure of the concept to the voters" rule).

But changebookTM isn't just changing vocabulary. It's changing punctuation too, because an enterprising Tory staffer realized all it takes to lose the hipster vote you're trying to woo is a misplaced semicolon (or, apparently, a capitalized title). So just check out the square parentheses used throughout the document; not those old-school round ones that elitists and socialists prefer. And the deliberate and random use of the number sign? As in hashtags? Snap!

Charts and tables? You betcha! Because change without pie charts and multicoloured graphs is lame.

changebookTM will change up how we do business in Ontario. And you know what really needs to be protected in this uncertain climate? The unemployed? Children? The working poor? You're not thinking change-y enough. Give up? Small businesses are people too (well, sort of) and deserve their very own Bill of Rights. And that's what changebookTM will give them.

changebookTM will put an end to war, too: the "war on the car," that is. (After all, didn't Ford Nation make it clear that nothing says champagne socialist like bike lanes?) Clearly the war on poverty has already been won since it isn't included in changebookTM. Come to think of it, neither is homelessness. Or inequality. But, hey, that's the way they roll in changebookTM: so start your engines!

changebookTM tells us what change is all about: cutting taxes, more money in your pocket, accountability in government, less public sector "waste". But it all sounds eerily...retro (in a "I can't believe M.C. Hammer pants are back -- even he doesn't wear them anymore" kind of way). In fact, once you uninstall the square brackets and the charts and graphs and the excessive use of the word "change," changebookTM sounds remarkably un-change-y.

In fact, it sounds more like changeback (trademark pending).

Back to government policies that overtly blame the poor and the marginalized for their "bad choices". Back to campaign promises based on bashing teachers, nurses, and unions in the name of "system accountability" and "eliminating waste". Back to the rhetoric of workfare. Back to (more!) tax cut fetishism.

In recent weeks, changebookTM's luster seems to be waning -- after leading in the polls for months, it appears that, for women voters anyway, familiarity is beginning to breed "meh" where Tim Hudak is concerned. Recent analysis has McGuinty and Hudak in a dead heat on the likeability meter, with provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath rising in the polls... which begs the question: are we witnessing the Tory equivalent of a #fail?

But really, is it any wonder? After all, changebookTM isn't innovative. Or groundbreaking. And it's certainly not unprecedented; we've been down this road before -- and we're hurtling along it on the federal stage. When it comes to these so-called "new" policy directions, we know what to expect.

And for Ontarians it's clearly a déjà screw.

Erika Shaker directs the Education Project at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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