I have just returned from a self-funded fact finding mission to North America. Some of my itinerary involved studying new developments in art, of which more under ‘Perambulations.’ And some of my demanding daily schedule required a close examination of the election scene in Ontario, where provincial elections are taking place. Of course, my punishing schedule, which others might describe as a ‘holiday’ left no time for blogging, hence the silence on these pages since mid-May.
I doubt that the Ontario election has featured at all in the British media, but it may well do (the election is today, 7th June) if the slight favourite, Doug Ford, leader of the ‘Progressive’ Conservatives (PC) wins the provincial premiership. He is the brother of the late Rob Ford, who gained notoriety when he eventually admitted having crack cocaine sessions with gang members in his Toronto mayor’s office a few years ago. Doug Ford is a populist in the mould of Donald Trump and has been criticised for his vague financial plans but which of course include tax cuts and unspecified spending cuts.
What has particularly interested me in this election is whether the populist surge that gave us Brexit, Trump, probable chaos in Italy and for that matter another boost for Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France will reach Canada, often perceived as a stable if not staid liberal democracy not prone to making waves.* The form the populist surge may take here does not necessarily have to be right-wing of course. Ford’s PCs are neck and neck with Andrea Horwath’s NDP – the left-wing New Democratic Party, which once briefly ran Ontario back in the 1990s. The NDP’s closest cousin in British politics naturally is the Labour Party under Corbyn.
The outgoing Ontario government (and let’s not forget here that Ontario has a population of 13 million, over a third of Canada’s overall population and provides a huge part of the country’s economic base) is a Liberal party administration run by Kathleen Wynn. Days before the election she has already conceded defeat and is now merely concerned with damage limitation and the hope of stopping either of the other two parties forming a majority. It needs to be noted that in all the miles of column inches of commentary I have read in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, I have seen no real connection being made between the provincial Liberals and the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau. Maybe this is what happens in geographically large countries with strongly devolved provincial government. In the Ontario election, the focus is on the (relatively) local, and the fact that Trudeau has in the last week agreed to prop up the Alberta tar sands with the firesale purchase of the ‘Trans Mountain’ pipeline project doesn’t seem to have any traction in this vote. That may be because Ontario voters recognise that their ballot result can have no possible impact on the federal government position. If that is indeed the case, it contrasts sharply with the British political scene, where the parties would have no hesitation in dragging anything they could into the pot to damage the other side. It’s possible the Green candidate may make a little headway with this issue given Trudeau’s apparent volte face since being the darling of the Paris climate change conference. But it doesn’t look at all crucial.
One thing that clearly concerns many Ontario electors, including many PC supporters is the character of Doug Ford himself. He was elected PC leader in what I can only describe as inauspicious circumstances, in which (it seems) money played a major role. Of course, I can’t verify the truth of that, but the perception is well established. What is evident is that like Trump, he has little patience for democratic norms. He has been quoted as saying that he will not govern ‘by the government’ but by ‘the people,’ that wonderful amorphous body abused so fondly by demagogues down the ages. Ford doesn’t appear to enjoy scrutiny and despises the press. Given that Ontario is likely to be the part of Canada hardest hit by Trump’s protectionist tariffs and anti-free trade measures, it will be interesting to see – if Ford the bombast is elected - how he would respond to Trump the bombast’s belligerence.
As a sub-national general election, this election will be almost entirely overlooked on the international stage, but I shall be watching the results closely on the 7th June to see if there is further evidence, even here, of the abandonment of political centrism. After decades of being lectured that elections can only be fought (and won) on the centre ground – a ground of course which has always been further to the right than to the left, so is not really ‘central’ at all – then perhaps we should take notice of what is taking place this week in Ontario.
Sorry about the moire effect, but this electronic campaign poster in Newmarket, Ontario I thought was a rather poor example of messaging. It is on behalf of the Progressive Conservatives but doesn't mention them - and it's asking voters to remember 'what happened in the 90s, when the NDP were last in power. The picture on the left is of the NDP's 1990s leader, Bob Rae. The whole thing is a good example of how to waste money in political marketing.
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