Dr. Dawg

Ontario's post-spectrum politics

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What on earth is Andrea Horwath playing at? A lot of progressive folks really want to know. Some of them sent her a letter on the subject, which was inevitably leaked.

The official NDP response to this withering fire? Campaign co-chair Gilles Bisson “said some of the people who signed the letter are not real NDPers and that it is a Liberal attempt to take attention from their party’s scandals.” It’s the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, gracelessly deployed. We must assume that he has Horwath’s blessing.

What, Judy Rebick, Michele Landsberg, Winnie Ng are closet Liberals now? Is this the best the NDP vanguard and its blinkered party faithful can do? Wild accusations of Right Deviationism? (And Left Deviationism?)

I’ve seen that movie before. The first time it was a tragedy. The second time, it’s farce.

It is tempting, however, to return the favour. What, after all, makes an NDPer an NDPer? Is my party a modern-day Ship of Theseus, every plank replaced over time, but still called the NDP? Some of us, at any rate, prefer the Hobbesean variant of that old paradox, collecting up all the discarded planks and rebuilding the original ship.

Those planks include liveable pensions. Health care. Education. Fair taxation. Decent wages. There was much of that in Kathleen Wynne’s budget. But rather than holding her to it in a minority government situation—using the NDP’s balance of power to set a timetable, pushing hard in the legislature and publicly to ensure implementation—Horwath triggered an election instead, and is running on a platform that in many respects feebly echoes the budget she booted, or falls to the right of it. She’s put plenty at risk with that move: one simply has to read Tim Hudak’s extremist position papers to see what’s at stake. Liberals upset with the gas-plant scandal and other McGuinty-era horrors may be looking for another party, but those votes, or many of them, will go rightward.

Check out the polls, though. How is that NDP strategy, if so it can be called, working out? Do they really have “momentum,” a favourite word of pollsters that has no practical meaning? Well, they’re not doing all that badly, as it turns out, even if they are trailing the pack. And the Liberals, cancelled gas-plants, G20 thuggery and all, are gaining. Hudak remains the front-runner at 35%, which, under our stupid first-past-the-post system, could still give him a majority. But the election is shaping up to be a narrowly-decided three-way race.

It occurs to me that we’re looking at the thing all wrong. Some of us are scrambling to make sense of it all by using the dependable old left-right spectrum as a template. But there isn’t much of a spectrum visible in this campaign. The needle is stuck at neo-lib, and we’re simply being offered red, blue and orange variants. “There is no alternative,” thundered one of Augusto Pinochet’s most fervent admirers. All three party leaders in Ontario would more or less agree with that. When the full spread of conceivable political alternatives is looked at, their differences seem merely tactical. No wonder they’re all neck and neck.

Now, of course it would be better to have Wynne and/or Horwath in power instead of that thick ideologue Tim Hudak. No progressive could seriously argue otherwise. But step back a little and consider what this means. Have politics become so impoverished, so etiolated, that elections are no longer about substantive politics at all, but about whose style is less bad and who is less likely to inflict damage when elected? Is our only real choice at the polls the flavour and strength of the poison to be administered? These, of course, are rhetorical questions. They’ve applied to electoral politics ever since I can remember. But in this election they have acquired a certain added poignancy. Our flabby “left” leaders aren’t even trying any more. They’ve just given up.

“I don’t vote,” said some apocryphal old grump. “It just encourages them.” I’m not there yet: Hudak is a savage, and can wreak much destruction in a very short time, so I’ll likely hold my nose and vote NDP as a superstitious reflex, like spitting to ward off evil. But what am I—or other Ontarians—gaining in the long run by participating in this foolishness? That question isn’t rhetorical, and it merits some real discussion. Maybe the time, finally, has come to have it.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on May 24, 2014 11:00 AM.

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