In the wake of the total debacle that was the Ontario election, a debacle that saw an austerity Liberal government reelected to a majority term thanks to both the extremism of the Tories and the craven opportunism of the ONDP, many are trying to frame the outcomes in ways that range from the thoughtful to the farcical.
One thing that is very clear, despite the protestations of those with a vested interest (primarily ONDP apologists), is that this election was one of the very few cases where so-called “strategic voting” obviously did work. Robin Sears, Alice Funke and Gerry Caplan to the contrary — and they all have their reasons for denying it — even a cursory scan of the results, from the extreme Liberal surges in places like Etobicoke Lakeshore to the equally extreme NDP surges in places like Niagara, it is completely obvious that, outside of central Toronto, voters voted strategically.
In central Toronto they voted Liberal. There there was no chance of a Tory getting elected but they voted Liberal anyway and they did so as the Liberals had a platform that at least partly spoke to Toronto, while the ONDP did not.
Regardless of all the absurd recriminations afterwards, many of us called this many months ago. You cannot frame a narrative around pro-fossil fuel populism without expecting to lose the support of pro-transit Toronto progressives. The ONDP obviously felt it could pick up seats elsewhere (and to a very minor degree it did) and was willing to throw these MPPs under the bus.
But it did so at the expense of a coherent platform and it clearly failed to resonate more broadly.
The perils of mimicking right wing populism.
Beyond this was the level of incredible toxicity and vitriol by the seemingly coordinated partisans of the ONDP in a variety of forums towards people who were critical of and could not support their party this time around. Many of them were longtime activists for many causes and often the party itself. They included people like Gerry Caplan, Michelle Landsberg, Cathy Crowe, Winnie Ng, Judy Rebick and others, who are obviously not “liberals,” the favourite “two-minute hate” think term that the NDP partisans use to dismiss critics.
Despite this they were framed as such, as I have previously written of on rabble, by ONDP apologists like Warren Kinsella, Robin Sears, and Warren (Smokey) Thomas. Warren Thomas used this very forum, rabble, to insult and demean, among others, one of rabble’s founders, Judy Rebick. rabble heavily promoted the post anyway.
Thomas went on, in one of the most craven attempts towards ugly and empty-headed self-defeating partisanship in recent memory, to let everyone know, on Sun News TV (!!!), that he thought Hudak was “honest,” a “breath of fresh air,” that he felt “bad for Rob Ford,” that he “knows there are going to be cuts,” called Kathleen Wynne a “liar” and lets us know that Andrea Horwath is the “old style” politician who is “fiscally conservative and socially liberal” and that, by the way, there is “not a blessed thing wrong with that.”
Well, yes there is Smokey, and there is also something wrong with saying these things on Sun News, but ultimately that is between you and your conscience. Happily this attempt at an “anything but Liberal” narrative did not achieve the amoral and idiotic result that was its intent.
This has not stopped, in the aftermath of the election, Robin Sears from attacking critics of Horwath as “faux New Democrats” in the “liberal” Toronto Star on his way, presumably, to another lobbying job for Tories.
As we always do we also have had the crop of basically meaningless articles on the “crisis of social democracy” that either call for a return to an overly romanticized past or that seek to insist that the ONDP can still be some kind of vehicle for Trotskyist or Marxist-Leninist groups to create a revolutionary movement within, both of which are ultimately and rather obviously, facile pursuits.
Then are the crew that insist that it is all due to the voting system and that if we simply had a form of proportional representation a social democratic utopia would ensue. This is wrong on every level and is disproved by the European actuality of proportional representation, which in countries with far more of an avowedly socialist or social democratic tradition it has led to governments in many cases just as right wing, if not more, as our own.
The constant distraction that is the claim that it is all the fault of the structure of how we vote instead of actually how and what we are voting for, is a basically liberal fantasy that simply changing the how and not the what, will accomplish something.
The problem is not how we are voting, it is what we are voting for.
Far more important than getting rid of “first past the post” or all the other excuses for this continued political sham, is the need to end the imbecility of leader driven parties and their inevitable cultures of sycophants and hacks.
We all know them — mindless spammers who think their “leader” can do no wrong and denounce alleged “opponents” with no sense of nuance at all.
The Robin Sears and “Smokey” style partisan garbage that no one really believes but that is regurgitated as gospel because party jobs and some egos depend on it.
Here is the thing. The commentaries do their “cause” far more harm than good. They contribute directly to disengagement. And they are all made in a bubble and are ultimately only embraced by those who buy into the simplistic narratives anyway. No thinking person “buys” them. The action of thinking and the pretension of believing this nonsense are actually incompatible.
These kinds of Smokey style attacks also 100% alienate the people who are falsely being attacked.
The election is now over. But the alienation and anger at the attacks and insults from people like Sears and Thomas will carry on long after.
They are the attacks of what amount to members of a political cult. An entirely centralized cult.
It is not the “orientation” at any specific moment that is the problem, it is the very structure of the organizations themselves. They are inevitably driven to become what they are by the hierarchical and power focused structures that define them.
More and more it is clear that we cannot move past bourgeois forms of social hierarchy without first doing so within our own movements. Left parties have to abandon the undemocratic, centralized, leader driven model inherited from bourgeois society, a model that depends on subservience by the “faithful,” and extend democratic control to activists and members collectively.
Something that the NDP and ONDP are entirely unwilling to do and that even many of its present critics are suspicious of.
The impulse to be led or to think that some new person, especially a person you know, like or respect, will change things, is very great. We have, as leftists, a desire, almost like moths to the flame, to be drawn to the fiction that someone will lead us out of the here and now we wish to repudiate, despite the fact that this very idea of “leadership” is a basic part of the here and now we wish to repudiate!
We need to move past this and to end the notion that what will save us is a better “leader” — a simply updated version of wanting a better “king” or “queen,” and realize that the problem with parties like the ONDP is intrinsic to their structure and its effect on their function, and is not just situational.
The left has to dispense with the illusions of unity that are really a reinforcement of careerism and opportunism. It is amazing what utter nonsense will be bleated by the sheep who are either unthinking or have, or want to have, a job with a party or who want to conform to a “line” to be a part of a group. Wanting to conform or be a part of a “bigger picture,” however meaningless, is a powerful motive.
Religions would not exist without it.
Before we talk of changing society and democratic voting systems broadly, we should look within. We need to reform our “voting systems” and our democratic control within — something these apologists never talk about.
Actually seeking to end hierarchy and the de facto dictatorships within our movements will not only make our parties a real alternative to our social status quo, it will end the tyranny within them of those most noxious of political phenomenon: the “leaders”… and their hacks and sycophants.