Category Archives: Ontario Election 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%. 

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%).

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.  

Ontario Liberals are NOT nice, they are "nefarious" (Part II)

As someone who takes language very seriously, I thought I should defend my use of the term nefarious to describe this Liberal government. This government was not only largely ineffectual. Worse, it was recklessly arrogant, unscrupulous, dishonest, and at times utterly reprehensible. This government was elected to bring in sweeping change. It was given, under the current electoral system, what amounted to absolute power at Queen’s Park and it was accompanied, for the most part, by a very buoyant and robust economy. Moreover, the overwhelming majority with which this government was entrusted only led to the most acrimonious and inhospitable parliament I’ve witnessed. Queen’s Park was permeated with a sense of entitlement and arrogance that only absolute power can create. Question period has become a complete circus (those who argue against MMP because it would undermine the consensus that happens under First Past the Post should recognize that currently we have the most divisive and pettily partisan legislatures imaginable).

And when we look back at this government’s record we see that little has changed in four years and we see a government that even in the twilight of its mandate continues to refuse to take responsibility and to be accountable for its failure to deliver. Since, it cannot stand on its record, this government must repeatedly attack, fear monger, and blame previous governments. For all of this, McGuinty’s Liberals should not be rewarded .

So let’s begin…
Least on my list of reprehensible actions taken by McGuinty is the fact of his having “broken promises”. And for me, the worst broken promise was the failure to close down coal-fuelled power generating plants, most notably Nanticoke. It was disingenuous to promise to close down those plants. Even worse, it was irresponsible to wait until the election year to begin to show signs of being interested in energy conservation and renewable energy. And now, all this government has in store for us is massive investment in nuclear energy. As sad as it is, the air quality today in Ontario would have been better had the Conservatives remained in power, since at the very least it is likely they would have added scrubbers to those plants, plants which will be open for at least another seven years.
On the subject of McGuinty’s breaking his pledge not to raise taxes. I’ve posted some thoughts on the health “levy”. I’ll simply add that far worse than increasing my taxes, was the regressive type of tax he imposed and that McGuinty expected me to believe that he was caught completely unawares by the deficit left to him by the Conservatives. Again, it was not his breaking of the promise in itself but his contempt for the intelligence of the electorate by promising it in the first place.

Moving on, I also find it insulting when McGuinty attempts to sell the party as anything other than a brokerage party, one that has replaced any kind of ideological core with opportunism and a win at all costs mentality. We are to believe that Liberals are an alternative to fear mongering, nasty Conservatives. Liberals, by contrast, are nice and friendly and McGuinty stands for principles like fairness and accountability. Quite the contrary. This is a party that hires henchmen like Kinsella to shape its strategy and spin its misinformation. It is a party committed to negative campaigning, often negative campaigning in the extreme. I need only point to last year’s by-election in Parkdale High Park and the malicious attacks on MPP Cheri DiNovo. See here, here, and here.
If this weren’t enough, where the Ontario Liberals, in my mind, become even more contemptible is in their feigning concern for poverty, for ethnic and new Canadians and, even for democracy itself. We all know this is a brokerage party that is ultimately beholden to the rich. Not surprisingly, then, the Liberal government’s record on tackling poverty, whether we’re talking child poverty, affordable housing, minimum wage, or the “poverty budget”, is deceptive and appalling. SlushGate was not only an affront to transparency and accountability, but also a manipulation of ethnic Canadians. Similarly, can we see this government’s initiatives for democratic renewal, most notably, its actions around the referendum on electoral reform, as anything but a pretense to democracy?
Lastly, there were in particular two incidents which I consider especially egregious. First, diverting millions of dollars in legal fees to fight parents of autistic children. This was quite widely reported.
Second, and something very few people are even aware of, this government had the audacity to manipulate virtually every firefighter in this province into thinking that it is the Ontario Liberals to whom they should be grateful for having easier access to compensation for job related diseases. In a very carefully staged performance and with great fanfare, the Ontario Liberals paraded firefighters into the legislature to announce the legislation they were about to introduce. With shameless gall, the Liberals quickly escorted the firefighters out before the opposition could speak to the bill, for had they stayed any longer they would have discovered that it is to the tireless efforts of Andrea Horwath that they truly owe their gratitude.
That Andrea Horwath wasn’t given the least bit of credit from the Ontario Liberals was one of the most callous and self-serving moments I’ve witnessed in politics. Many firefighters will vote for the Ontario Liberals on Oct. 10 and few of them will know how they were completely hoodwinked by the government they’re supporting.

Mr. Urquhart: Liberals are NOT nice, they are nefarious, btw where are the blogging dippers during this campaign?

When partisan hacks like Cherniak or washed up smear apologists like Kinsella scurrilously demean what it means to think and to write (or even to treat others with dignity), I tend not to worry. I may react, but I don’t necessarily worry because I know that, for now at least, the dissemination of information is still largely in the hands of “professionals”. Now I’m under no delusions that journalists are objective and unbiased reporters of “the truth”, but being professionals, they are at least to some extent accountable.

This is why I am increasingly troubled when a journalist like Ian Urquhart, whom I respect as a journalist, starts to sound partisan and disingenuous. In today’s Star, Ian urges McGuinty to take the gloves off and go negative but laments that McGuinty is too nice a man:

The problem for McGuinty is that he is uncomfortable “going negative” himself.

Sorry, Mr. Urquhart, McGuinty and his henchmen have no problems going negative and you above most people should know that. After all, you covered the Parkdale High Park by-election. When an entire provincial government maliciously gangs up on a United Church minister, whose biggest mistake is that she wants to serve her community under the wrong political banner, that’s not a reluctance to going negative. And need I say, negative in the extreme.

You well know that the Liberal smear campaign against Cheri DiNovo originated in the office of Liberal cabinet minister Gerry Phillips. You also know that it was a concerted effort that involved much of the Liberal brass, including McGuinty who, as you reported, campaigned in the riding four times. It included Gerard Kennedy and Bob Rae who were seen distributing incendiary literature translated into Polish, to incite a reaction from the Roman Catholic vote. Preying on religious fault lines is just sleazy. And Sylvia Watson was all too happy to oblige and play along.
To this day, Liberals are remorseless of those tactics which smeared a good woman’s name and deeply insulted the intelligence of the electorate. Watson stands by her smear. McGuinty endorsed the tactics. You reported it yourself (see below). Only recently has Sorbara, wanting not to sound like a complete hypocrite for denouncing the conservatives’ attack ads, said that the smear campaign was a “mistake”. A mistake, do you hear that? A mistake? A mistake, by the way, is what Kinsella calls his sexist gaffe. In Liberalese, a mistake means something that could cost the party votes at election time. What we can’t fail to see here, is that the regret over the smear campaign is only for NOT having won the by-election and for having made a tactical error in judgement. The regret has nothing to do with the possibility that it might ethically be wrong to attempt to assassinate another’s character.

Liberals have no principles, no ethics, no vision. Only a ruthless insatiable appetite for winning at all costs. So please, Mr. Urquhart, don’t tell the public the Liberals are uncomfortable going negative. They’re quite comfortable going negative, problem is they’re stupid about it.

By-election gets down and dirty
Sep. 13, 2006. 01:00 AM

On the surface, it would appear that the New Democrats are well positioned to win tomorrow’s provincial by-election in the west-end Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park, formerly occupied by Gerard Kennedy.

It is, after all, a riding that has gone to the NDP before — in 1990 provincially and as recently as this year federally, with the election of Peggy Nash.

And it is a by-election, which New Democrats are very good at winning. By-elections allow them to concentrate their formidable organizing resources and to invite the electorate to lodge a cost-free protest vote.

NDP canvassers in Parkdale-High Park are coached to remind voters at the doorstep that their ballots “will not defeat the government.”

Nevertheless, the Liberals want desperately to hold onto the riding, apparently at any cost.

Kennedy won Parkdale-High Park in 2003 by a whopping 42 percentage points — the sixth widest margin in the province — before quitting as education minister earlier this year to run for the federal Liberal leadership.

To replace Kennedy, the Liberals are running Sylvia Watson, a humourless one-term city councillor and former city bureaucrat. Suffice it to say that she ain’t no Gerard Kennedy.

So she is getting help, plenty of it. This week, Premier Dalton McGuinty made his fourth campaign appearance in the riding — an unusual number of visits by a premier in a by-election.

As well, 11 cabinet ministers were dragooned into the campaign this week for an event in a Bloor St. W. café and subsequent canvassing.

“I’m very confident we’re going to win this by-election,” said an unconvincing Finance Minister Greg Sorbara.

Yesterday, Kennedy himself and former New Democratic premier Bob Rae (who lives in the riding) took time out from fighting each other in the federal Liberal leadership race to campaign for her.

It is not these high-profile interventions that are raising eyebrows at Queen’s Park, however. Rather, it is the smear campaign being waged against the NDP candidate, Cheri DiNovo, a 56-year-old United Church minister.

At first, the smears — including references to her youthful indiscretions and carefully edited excerpts from her sermons — appeared only in blogs and anonymous flyers. That made it easy for the Watson campaign to deny any connection to them.

But this week the Watson campaign handed out a press release, on Liberal party letterhead, that dredged up a year-old sermon in which DiNovo allegedly said that the media treatment of child-killer Karla Homolka was “comparable to the persecution of Jesus Christ.”

DiNovo said the remark was taken entirely out of context by the Liberals and suggested she might sue them over it.

But the press release almost immediately backfired by putting the Liberals, not the New Democrats, on the defensive.

At an all-candidates’ meeting Monday night, even the Conservative candidate, former city councillor David Hutcheon, castigated the Liberals for trying to “assassinate the character” of their NDP opponent.

“This is not fair,” Hutcheon told the 100-plus in attendance. “It is not the Canadian way … They (the Liberals) have lost their moral compass.”

(An aside: Although the Conservatives ran second in the 2003 provincial election, party insiders admit that they are long shots to win tomorrow. It would be a nice consolation prize for the Conservatives, however, if DiNovo were to knock off the Liberals.)

The negative reaction clearly threw McGuinty for a loop. Pestered by the press on the smearing of DiNovo, the best response he could muster was: “Look, it’s a tough by-election for us.”

As for Watson, the candidate, she tried to distance herself from the smear. “It wasn’t my idea,” she told me, while declining to say whose it was.

The opposition parties are pointing their fingers at Warren Kinsella, the lobbyist who ran the Liberal war room in the last provincial election.

As evidence, they noted that his blog yesterday included an attack on DiNovo (whom he referred to as “DiNutso”) and a link to Waton’s web site.

But Kinsella denied any involvement in the Watson campaign. “I’ve never met or even spoken to her (Watson),” he said in an e-mail response.

Of his shot at DiNovo, Kinsella said: “I’m entitled to an opinion about her candidacy.” As for the link to the Watson web site, he explained it as an automatic function of a Google advertising program to which he subscribes.

I’m predicting that we haven’t heard the last of this.

Liberals’ internal polling must be showing a drop last week

What some of the media suggested going into last weekend (that Howard Hampton and John Tory were the winners after the first week of campaigning) must have also shown up on the Liberals’ own polling numbers. How else to explain Ian Urquhart’s column today in the Toronto Star? While Mr. Urquhart has no obligation to be NDP friendly, and while I usually find him one of the more balanced and sober writers at The Star, this piece will be used to deflect valid criticism of the Liberal record on taxation. Is it really a reality check that Liberals imposed a levy rather than a tax? Is it really a reality check that depending on how one calculates things the Liberals may not have imposed the largest tax hikes in Ontario history?A 24% tax hike regressively applied on average income earning Ontarians still ranks up there.

First, it’s patently obvious that the Toronto Star is heavily a mouthpiece for Liberal rhetoric and policy. Having caught the Ontario Liberal government in scandal after scandal, funny that the writers of the Star never felt terribly scandalized themselves. A typical example was ColleGate. While lots of ink was shed to report the scandal, the coverage was often tempered with language ranging from “so called slush fund” to “there was no slush fund”. Regardless of semantics here, the actions of the Liberal government around doling out year end funds should have scandalized the public in no less measure than did the sponsorship scandal of the federal Liberals.  These were reprehensible actions taken by our provincial government. They were unethical (funds not openly available to the public and meant to lure and bribe supporters) and lacked any integrity (completely disregard for  accounting controls and measures).
Speaking of semantics, and returning to the issue at hand, Mr. Urquhart’s story today should be seen for what it is: a defense of the indefensible Liberal record on what will undoubtedly remain a campaigning issue this week. McGuinty will be pressed hard on both his breaking of a written promise and his imposition of a massive and regressive tax hike. And Urquhart’s piece is clearly an attempt to deflect or attenuate this criticism. How so?
First, Urquhart repeats the Liberal apologist line in the title of his article when he calls what the Liberals imposed a “levy”. Whether it was a levy, a tax, a premium, it was money taken away from me which McGuinty promised not to take away me. Second, Urquhart wants to argue the point that it wasn’t the biggest tax hike in Ontario history. Fine, depending how you want to measure things, perhaps it was and perhaps it wasn’t. But does it make it any more palatable that McGuinty’s health tax hike might be only the second or third highest in Ontario history? We’re all at least agreed that it was a massive tax hike. And, more problematically, this was a regressive tax in which average Ontarians  saw their taxes raised by almost 25%, but those Ontarians making over $200 000 per year saw their taxes raised by only 3%.
Truth be told, of the nefarious things done by the McGuinty Liberals, I actually don’t consider McGuinty back tracking on his promise not to raise taxes as one of them.  I especially don’t mind paying more to ensure a viable universal health care for Ontarians. What I greatly object to is the imposition of a regressive tax that disproportionally hurts those who can least afford to have their taxes increased, not to mention the failure to make significant improvements to our health care system with those monies raised through increased taxation.

McGuinty defends record on child poverty: Pllleeaase!

Ontario Liberals’ record on poverty has been appalling. Period. Made worse still by their attempts to deceive the public that they have made any significant progress in this area. Most recently, McGuinty has defended his record on child poverty as “real” progress. Bullshit! A Conservative with a poverty agenda is contradictory. A Liberal with a poverty agenda is pure artifice and ruse.

Of all the back pedaling and broken promises of this government, McGuinty’s refusal to end the clawback of the national child supplement is among the most egregious. In 2003, McGuinty ran on ending what he argued was a wrong and unjust clawback. Yet, when he became Premier, he refused to stop taking away $1500 per year away from the poorest children in the province. For four years, the Ontario Liberals have continued to rob the poorest children in this province of $1500 earmarked for them. And we know child poverty is only getting worse.

In this year’s budget McGuinty announced with great fanfare that his government was finally phasing out the clawback and phasing in a child benefit over five years. The child benefit for this year was a paltry $250, and if I recall, one of the remarks around Queen’s Park was that the announced child benefit was less than the cost of the shoes worn by Greg Sorbara when he made the announcement. Regrettably, the clawback has not ended and we’ll have to re-elect this government if we want to see it eventually phased out in the next few years. I’m sorry, this is not a record on which to stand. McGuinty ran in 2003 to end the clawback, and he might as well be running on it again because shamefully he’s yet to end clawing back money set aside for needy families.

NDP ad questions McGuinty Liberals’ record

Will the poor record of the McGuinty Liberals stick to this government? Or will Ontarians instead reward this government with re-election, and in the process lower what is expected of political mandates even further? Brian Evans, professor at Liberal friendly Ryerson University (you know the institution helping Gerard Kennedy pay back his debts from his run at leadership by appointing a person without even a B.A. to the position of Distinguished Visiting Professor) defends the prospect of re-electing Dalton McGuinty as premier this way: “At the end of the day, people would say this has not been a horribly bad government.”

This is what it’s come down to? We re-elect not horribly bad governments???

“Don’t get mad, get orange!”

Go "negative" or go home!

I find it very telling that in the recent Liberal outcry over John Tory going “negative”, the focus is not at all on the undesirability of negative campaigning but rather that Tory stated he wouldn’t stoop to such tactics. The Liberal response, in other words, was a negative attack on Tory’s credibility. Sometimes two negatives do make a positive. Not to be missed here is that Liberal strategists like Kinsella are no longer even shy about the fact that they’re tethered and committed to negative campaigning. Going negative has become de rigueur and an accepted fact of politics for the Ontario Liberals. Go negative or go home!

And you know, it wasn’t that long ago that Kinsella, Raymaker and Cherniak were defending their vicious personal smear on Cheri DiNovo claiming that it was part of public record, even claiming that they themselves were being reprehensibly smeared by those denouncing them. Lamentably, less than a year later these apologists of smear no longer even feel the need to justify it.
So what about John Tory? Can he safely be accused of having gone negative? Undoubtedly Yes. Clearly in the broadest sense of the concept of “negative campaigning” as a deflection of political focus away from one’s own platform and onto the negative aspects of an opponent, such that even a mention of an opponent may be construed as negative, John Tory has gone negative. And is he doing it for leverage? Unquestionably.

Still, what distinctions get lost in such a sweeping view of negative campaigning? Personally I favour reasoned debate, even old school sophistry, to its modern day replacements: petty spin and puerile negative attacks. But, surely, we haven’t lost entirely the ability to distinguish between attacking an opponent’s logic, argumentation and political record from adhominem attacks on an opponent’s character and personal history. Surely, although both are forms of “negative campaigning”, there still exists a recognizable difference between vilifying candidates by dredging up personal details from their teens or by disingenuously misconstruing their statements and intelligently and reasonably critiquing an opponent’s statements and political record.

To be fair, I do think John Tory has overstepped slightly the line in his criticism of the McGuinty government record, yet this must be seen as a substantially different kind of attack from the sordid personal attacks and mischaracterizations perpetrated by the McGuinty Liberals against John Tory and others. I don’t think John Tory has veered significantly from his desire to conduct politics differently- mind you, things had degenerated so significantly at Queen’s Park that it wouldn’t take much to improve the situation. His attacks aren’t outrageously personal and we all know that if anyone deserves the monicker Promise Breaker, it’s not John Tory.

So is attacking the Ontario Liberal government’s pitiful record, negative campaigning? Surely, we don’t mean to dispense with “critique” in politics. While I lament the virtual absence of critical thought and dignified comportment in politics, I wouldn’t want to lose it as an “ideal” (in fact, I’ve long argued given the decline in critical thought, eloquence and articulateness in political discourse that all newly elected officials should be subjected to a rigorous regimen of literature, rhetoric and political philosophy).

However, even if we grant that “negative” campaigning, marked by sleazy smears, distortions, distraction, disingenuousness, petty partisanship, etc. has or will soon become the norm, ought we not to aspire to something better? Or is the fact that dirty politics can be highly effective in modern day elections sufficient reason to be resigned to this kind of campaigning? Does the fact the voter turn out and public perception of elected officials is at an all time low possibly owing at all to this? Have we become so focused on ends that we entirely neglect the legitimacy of the means by which we strive for those ends? If I’m focused on attaining a watch, it matters substantially whether I acquire it legitimately or I steal it, for the latter will always never be just a watch, but a stolen watch.

I recently had a very interesting discussion with a teacher. She pointed out that today students are so focused on end results that cheating has become rampant. When she addressed her class in a very frank and gentle way, students told her that they consider cheating only as cheating when they get caught, otherwise it’s called being savvy and getting the job done.

Is all of this completely unrelated? Or is this part of the ravages to the human soul inflicted by capitalism? Is this not the logical extension of narcissistic self-interest? Is negative campaigning not perfectly suited for a consumer society that has neither the appetite nor the time for focusing on issues and rather delights in seeing other torn asunder. Are these not by-products of late capitalist societies? For while the material gain and leverage brought to human societies by their adoption of capitalist economies is undeniable, we’re often less prone to scrutinize the inevitable changes wrought on human beings themselves by these transformations.

So what are we left with in Canadian politics? Principles, ethics and integrity are luxuries that a party focused only on power cannot afford. Polling is the moral compass of most of today’s politicians and the Ontario Liberals have whole heartedly embraced this kind of politics.

A recent example from Jason Cherniak is a worthy illustration. Cherniak, who greeted every mention of ColleGate as comprising a “slush fund” with outrage and who defended the embattled minister, not only was content to scapegoat the minister in the hopes of saving the party but now teases John Tory for his inability to elicit outrage in the electorate over that scandal. This, of course, after examining recent polling numbers. Despite a condemning report from the Auditor General, despite fair accusations that this at least has the stench of a slush fund, etc., Cherniak ultimately sees nothing untoward in the funding scandal since it doesn’t seem to have hurt the Ontario Liberal Party’s chances of forming the next government.

Message to "Ethnic" Ontarians: Liberals and Conservatives are really NOT your friends

I was raised in a working class ethnic family in a working class community and a question that has always plagued me is: Why does the working class repeatedly act and vote against its own best interest? Worse why does the working class actually play the key role in perpetuating the existing system of disproportionate distribution of wealth, of worker exploitation and of iniquity? If the prosperity gap is widening, it’s not because of a sinister plot by those in whose hands wealth is progressively becoming consolidated, but rather owing to the massive complicity of those who are least advantaged by the system. To understand how and why this happens one could do no better than to look at the concepts of “ideology” and “hegemony” as discussed in the Marxist traditions.

Incidentally, believe it or not, I found myself agreeing with Warren Kinsella today. You see, Warren discloses for us not only the quagmire that would be the prospect of funding for religious based education, but also the real motive behind John Tory’s advancement of such a proposal. Kinsella reveals the pretty obvious truth that John Tory is electioneering with “a cynical ploy to peel off some “ethnic” votes to which they [Conservatives] feel entitled.” And I whole heartedly agree. I can’t think that, on this issue, Tory is being impelled by anything other than polling and the hope of securing some voter support from groups that tend to vote Liberal.

Funny though, Warren didn’t view the so-called slush fund or Colle-Gate as a similar cynical ploy. For although it wasn’t an attempt to peel off some “ethnic” votes, it was a cynical ploy to shore up and sustain a voter base to which the Liberals feel entitled?

I’m dismayed that the Ontario Liberals and the Ontario PC see fit to insult and manipulate such an important voter base, a base to which both parties arrogantly feel entitled. I also harbour no illusions. Even though it would be completely in their best self-interest to support the NDP, I know that new Canadians and ethnic minorities will tend to support one of the hegemonic parties. But I also know that as time passes, the likelihood of broadening one’s support tends to increase.

And it often begins, as it did with me, with the awareness that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives are really my friends. They are truly only friends of banks, multinationals, and big business. It is to them that they are accountable. It’s part of their DNA. As for common folk, well we’re simply taken for granted and through the extensive, and these days virtually exclusive, use of polling, the Liberals and the Conservatives determine how best to toy with us so as to attempt to secure our vote.

There’s only one party that truly represents the best interest of working families: and that’s the NDP. Period.

P.S. Am I the only one who sees the prominence that this religious based school funding issue is acquiring as entirely misplaced? 

First, while I’m not averse eventually to debating how we might reconfigure the existing system of education, I don’t see the fact the we have separately funded boards of education as the root cause of the current malaise in education. There are real and present funding concerns which need to be addressed if we’re not going to let our children down. We need first to fix the funding formula and fully fund our schools. Schools need the requisite money to keep the buildings functional, teachers need to be supported, and special needs education must be bolstered more than ever. This government record on supporting children with autism and providing assistance to new Canadians has been shameful and deplorable.

Second, this contentious issue of religious based funding is sidetracking us from more pressing issues. As I just mentioned there’s too much to fix in the current system to think of dismantling it. I’ve heard nothing of environmental issues. There’s been precious little about the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and the incursion of precarious employment into many sectors of the labour market;  of the damage pay day loan companies are foisting on our inner cities; of the appalling levels of poverty in our province; of reviewing  property tax and property assessment. Of health care. And why?

Because the Ontario Liberal Party and the PC Party of Ontario are more interested in securing some “ethnic” votes which will gain them leverage in the coming election than in improving the lives of Ontarians, votes from people which they see fit, now and historically, to manipulate and toy with.