Sunday, October 14, 2007

Post election wrap up:Brokerage politics at its best

Congratulations to the Ontario Liberals for proving once again that winning an election is more important than pursuing the common good or adhering to ideological principles. Brokerage politics at its best. Congratulations too to The Toronto Star, without whom the Liberals may have had actually to campaign and defend their dismal record. Further congratulations to The Star for helping manufacture an ethos of apathy, indifference and ignorance that resulted in the lowest voter turnout in Ontario's history. That faith based school funding became the ballot issue is a complete farce.  The Toronto Star is at best incompetent for falling into the  Liberal trap or at worst complicit for colluding with the Liberals in making the ballot issue what it was. At a time when this province is on the precipice of having to make some of the most important decisions in its history, we hold an election in which all debate and discussion of the issues was stifled and preempted by a non-issue (according to an environics poll last week, faith based funding, while highly divisive, was THE decisive issue for only 3% of Ontarians). 

Meanwhile, our province is today faced with considerable and grave decisions about our short and long term futures.  Our environment desperately needs attention. Our way of living is not sustainable.  Our manufacturing sector is being decimated in a global economy and there are warnings that a recession is around the corner.  Our health care and education systems are still broken. Child poverty is at alarmingly high levels.  Working families are a paycheck away from poverty. And seniors, many more of whom we'll soon have to take care of,  are being treated in an appallingly undignified way. 

And what have we done? Not only have we stifled public debate on the direction Ontarians may have chosen to go on these critical issues, but also we've handed a recklessly arrogant and smug government, with an abysmal record, absolute power in dealing with these issues. Actually when I say we, I really mean 22% of all eligible voters (lowest turnout in history and an overwhelming majority granted by 22% of voters and tell me we don't desperately need electoral reform).  And that about sums it all up.

So when Warren Kinsella argues that the election was a validation of the Ontario Liberal motto, "change that's working", perhaps he should have finished the clause. Change that's working to blunt affect and breed more cynicism in the electorate. Change that's working to produce the lowest voter turnout in history. Change that's working  to redefine what it means to vote for change. Change that's working to redefine what the electorate considers acceptable governance. The real motto of this election was: vote for us, we're not horribly bad government.  And even on this Ontarians were utterly beguiled, for this government was in truth nefarious.

But not all was bad news. In my riding of Parkdale High Park, unquestionably one of the most intelligent, engaged, and progressive ridings in the entire province, voters saw fit to vote in their best interest and resoundingly re-elected Cheri DiNovo with 45% of the vote. It was, if I'm not mistaken, the largest gains made by the NDP from 2003 (increase of 30%), but more astoundingly, represents a turnaround of 103%. Liberals won the riding in 2003 with 58% and the NDP claimed it in 2007 with 45%. 

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Ontario Election 2007: Parkdale High Park

There's no question that Cheri DiNovo, the incumbent, has proven her mettle in the course of the last year.  She succeeded in the face of an outrageously nasty smear campaign waged by Sylvia Watson, endorsed by Dalton McGuinty, with a supporting cast made up of 11 cabinet ministers, Bob Rae, Gerard Kennedy. And the scurrilous and abusive material was courtesy mainly of Jason Cherniak (now running for Central Region President for the LPC (O) ) and Warren Kinsella (who loves to dish out crap, but doesn't like it when it's thrown back at him or his friends). Not only did DiNovo persevere (some of the literature that was distributed to my house was outright incendiary and malicious) but perhaps she was made a stronger politician because of it.

DiNovo has been an unquestionable force  at Queen's Park, exceeding expectations of supporters and detractors alike. Christina Blizzard, of the Toronto Sun, in her appraisal of MPP's performances awarded only two grades in the "A" range, and one was to Cheri DiNovo. John Tory, when asked on a recent radio program which one of the MPP's in the legislature not part of  PC caucus he would like to pry away from the other parties, paused, and said "Cheri DiNovo". For a summary of her year at Queen's Park see here. Personally, I like that she also brought some much needed style to Queen's Park. I like that she portrays a markedly different image of "the left" than often projected in our media (you know, Birkenstocks, cargo pants, home knit sweaters...).  Fashion, style, appreciation of fine and beautiful things should not limited to any one group of people (European socialists have long shown this). For me, what makes the bourgeoisie what they are is not simply the trappings of wealth, but its attitude and way of obtaining wealth. I recently read an inane commenter calling the NDP a bunch of white wine socialists (it may have been funny if he had said white whine socialists). To that I say bravo. And to single malt and cognac socialists, I say bravo. To socialists who spend $1000 dollars on a Barcelona chair, I say bravo. To those socialists who see beauty in a Barnett Newman painting, I say bravo. To those socialists who read bourgeois, untamable theorists like Derrida, Lacan, Zizek, Hegel I say bravo.

Oh, but I've digressed. In the rematch between Cheri DiNovo and Sylvia Watson one would think this a no contest. DiNovo is clearly the superior candidate. But there are other factors. Watson is not running an overt smear campaign this time (although her campaign team has been slinging mud and have been caught in some compromising tactics at democraticSpace).  "The Ghosts for Sylvia Watson" (Sept. 11) from the by-election past seem to be haunting this campaign as well. There are also the landlords for Watson (buildings with numerous tenants, many of them not Watson supporters, adorned only with Watson signs). All to say, that while Watson is obviously losing the sign war, she is holding her own in parts of Parkdale. 

This is significant because Watson's tactic, as unbelievable as it is for a discerning voter, seems to be to try to peel off the poor vote, while hoping that hard core Liberals as well as involuntary Liberals (e.g. some of the immigrant voters who've voted Liberal ever since they arrived in Canada and have in fact been largely taken for granted by the Liberal party) will just come out and do their part. In the meantime, Watson, a wealthy lawyer living in a million dollar house, walks around with another faux advocate for the poor, Gerard Kennedy, hoping to strip away some of the Parkdale vote.  Sadly, this strategy may, in fact, gain her some votes. I say sadly because the Liberals are a party born of the rich for the rich (the original liberating impulse of the Liberals was towards liberating markets from regulation) whose support in the twentieth century of  a welfare state has less to do with actually caring about people than wanting to enable capitalism to prosper (unfettered capitalism is very ugly and very unworkable, think of Dickens' London).  And to have any of the poor in Parkdale deceived into voting for Watson and the Liberals is, in my view, a real travesty.  There is no question that the poor, the working poor, the marginalized, the lost, the hungry of Parkdale would best be served by DiNovo, and the NDP, their true and tireless advocates. But, many people regrettably don't vote in their own best interest.

Then, there's the whole, strategic voting thing (of course, a by-product of having an unfit and undemocratic electoral system, which incidentally Watson supports).  Until it became clear that McGuinty is going to form a second majority government, I think Watson may have been helped by "progressives" and swing voters who would rather vote to try to ensure that John Tory didn't form the government than vote for the truly "progressive" representative in their riding. This seems a non factor now.

Green Party supporters, although among the most principled voters, too are faced with a strategic choice between voting for their candidates (who still have no chance of gaining a seat) or at least having some of their concerns voiced in the legislature. The NDP, has now, and has for a long time, an abiding concern for the environment. It believes in fully funded education and health care. It is socially progressive. It is against nuclear energy. While the Green Party may have different means of achieving these things, it is committed to them, which is why many Greens, typically lefty Greens, I would think, vote NDP (in Europe the Greens & Social Democrats have formed coalitions). I suspect that the Liberal party would be the last party a Green would vote for, since the Liberal Party is the least ideological and principled of the political parties. The Liberals have been so successful because they play brokerage politics, swinging to the right or to the left as it suits them best, casting as big a net as possible.

In the final analysis, I think that if DiNovo's campaign does a strong job of pulling her vote, then she should be awarded re-election on Wednesday, but as to whether DiNovo will win by a larger or smaller margin than last year I really can't say. What I can risk is that DiNovo will likely not win by the same margin (8%).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I hope the Ontario Liberals are claiming The Toronto Star as a campaign expense

For all my railing against this Liberal government, I've never done so under the illusion or pretense that it would matter very much. I do it not only because I can, but primarily because I see it as part of my social responsibility.  I do it because it is right to confront and demand accountability from reckless and arrogant governments and the disingenuous machinery that propels them forward. 

You may wonder why I don't scrutinize the provincial Progressive Conservatives. For me that's very simple. Liberal, Tory, same old story. Two big tent brokerage parties concerned chiefly with securing power and placating the rich. At this point, the Liberals most threaten my desire to have governance which truly pursues the common good. Politics, and ethics for that matter, begins wherever you find yourself. At this moment, there is a provincial government seeking re-election on the basis of having provided not horribly bad government.  This not only further disenfranchises an already apathetic electorate, but it is actually misleading. 

As I've tried to show on this blog, this government has indeed provided horribly bad governance. And when Kinsella and his ilk reduce punditry to making fun of candidates' photos or their linguistic gaffes, or when the Toronto Star actively campaigns on behalf of the Liberals by working with the Liberal war room to fashion a ballot issue that is designed to sink the Tories, the standards of politics are further diminished. The Star is now more than a liberal mouthpiece, it is actively endorsing McGuinty and his Liberals. The Star's recent editorials suggesting that McGuinty is a better leader for our province or that the Liberals can boast a solid record on poverty issues are not only  very questionable assertions, but are transparently cynical and partisan attacks on John Tory and Howard Hampton respectively.

So is the election all but decided? I don't think so. There may be some interesting surprises on Oct. 10.  Environics recently released a poll on voting intentions, and more specifically, on what voters reported, unprompted, as the most decisive factors in casting their vote.  So will extending funding to faith based schools be the ballot issue that the media are so desperately trying to make of it? According to this poll, faith based funding was the second from the bottom in terms of importance played in voters' decisions. Only 3% of voters said that it was the most important factor influencing their decision. The highest rated factor was health care (14%) followed, very interestingly, by  breaking/keeping promises (12%), then education (11%), the environment (8%), then, interestingly, owing to the widespread recognition that John Tory came out ahead, leadership debate (6%). For an excellent summary on the disparity between voters' main ideological concerns and media coverage, see Paulitics.  The media has largely tried to make the election about faith based school funding (incidentally but one plank in John Tory's platform) while deflecting voters' attention from the issues which they themselves see as most important.

Of course, the grim reality is that people will still vote against their own best interest. Sadly 19% polled didn't even know or wouldn't say what's most decisive to them. Still, it's clear that the party which would best address the factors that voters say is most influential to them is the NDP.  The NDP promises fully funded health care and education (23%). Of the major parties, the NDP is best on the environment (8%).  On social programs, poverty, minimum wage (4%), the NDP is not only the sole political party formed out of a need to defend the rights of working families and those others marginalized and exploited, the NDP managed to put poverty back on the agenda at Queen's Park during the last session. I also believe that the NDP has the best plan for dealing with the looming economic crisis and the decimation of the manufacturing sector (5%), not that many have heard of it because the media are too busy covering faith based school funding.