When you asked the majority of Ontarians what they truly desired from this election — no matter their political colour — the unanimous response was almost always that they wanted “change.” Yet no candidate offered change in the way people wanted it. The fundamental problem is that people often want radical change, but that’s where their recommendations end.
Consensus was building in this province that Doug Ford needed to go. Yet, those outraged with Ford’s government in this province hit a tragic wall: with no focus — and surely no willingness — to consolidate the opposition, the sentiment to get rid of Ford crumbled with an impressive haste; this resulted in a majority vote of dissent rendered irrelevant by its split, both in ridings and in the popular vote.
The tragedy of this election
It has become clear that our kryptonite in this province is the grand lie of a populist politician who is “for the people.” I have one question for the proponents of this. Who and where are the “people”? Ontarians are not some homogeneous ethnic or cultural group of some description — our communities are widely different from each other; our languages, traditions, and origins differ not only city by city but also person by person. We have wildly different needs! The primitive populist thinking by politicians has managed to survive only because of an unholy trinity of popular weariness, the selling of proverbial indulgences, and a lack of political education.
Unfortunately, it also does not help that so much of this election was marked by senseless strategy and ‘empty’ policy. Our political candidates didn’t propose many real solutions to this province’s issues. Instead, I claim that our politics has become so cynical and tired that our political parties have resorted to an incredibly banal tactic to get more votes: the selling of indulgences.
We hear it all the time: don’t worry folks, if you vote for us, there will be no more license plate sticker fees. Instead of the politicians working to lower the cost of living — and of course they will never admit that part — they push to increase the minimum wage from $15.50 to $20 per hour!
On the surface, a higher minimum wage seems great — we’re giving people more buying power, lifting people out of poverty, and so on. There is no doubt that increasing the minimum wage would initially have many benefits. The problem is that the increase in minimum wage doesn’t actually function as a solution. The $20 per hour minimum wage essentially says, “instead of working to lower the cost of living, we’ll just continue to inflate, inflate, and inflate.” The actual problem of the cost of living never actually gets solved at all! Although the minimum wage raise may be good for now, we may soon need to raise it to $25 per hour, and then $30 per hour, and then $50 per hour, and so on. It is not an actual solution, but rather a way to buy time and, more importantly, votes.
We need long-term solutions and real effort to lower the cost of living, which seems to be a ‘conversation’ that nobody wants to have at Queen’s Park.
A simple “indulgence” does not confer grace or salvation from the issues that we face, but instead just kicks those issues a little more down the curb. We must instead go for solutions that really, truly function. If one thing’s for sure, it’s that taking away the cost of a license plate sticker doesn’t solve any true problems in the long run, Ford.
There is another path, a third way forward
From my perspective, what’s even more tragic is that policy didn’t actually matter in this election. This was a purely ideological battle at its core. The majority — almost sixty percent — of Ontarians actually rejected Ford and his weak ideology. The importance of this cannot be understated.
Unfortunately, our electoral system has again failed to reflect this. Almost fifty percent of the votes were split equally between the Liberals and New Democrats — which shows that what Ontarians really want is a pragmatic, centre-left government.
Here’s where it may be bittersweet for those who are chronically involved in politics, especially for those on the left. Sorry to the more radical voices, but if there is anything that this election has shown, it is that left-leaning politics will not motivate people in this province. Instead, I claim that this vote split is a profound wake-up call. What do the “people” want? They want a new vision of a social democracy, a third way out of the crises that face us. No grand revolutions are necessary for such a cause.
If we work hard and together, we can offer this new vision of social democracy, and we will succeed.
Whether we’re Liberals or New Democrats or Greens or just regular unaffiliated Ontarians, it is clear that unless we come together, we cannot defeat right-wing populism. Progressive coalitions are springing up everywhere, from France to Hungary to Colombia, and it is high time that we form one in Ontario. We have four years to build a coalition that benefits people. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we can agree that the moment to act is ‘now.’
For a new, popular coalition of progressive Ontarians
It is high time that we unite like-minded parties in Ontario under a common banner. It’s not like this has never been done before in Canadian politics. The Saskatchewan Party is one such example, as it was founded by members of both Progressive Conservative and Liberal persuasion in order to stop vote splitting — the very situation the majority of Ontarians at the polls find themselves in today.
Uniting like-minded parties is the only way to escape right-wing politics. The students here at U of T know the danger of right-wing reactions to our innovative and progressive university spaces. We know the danger of cuts to our education system. We know what happens to the most vulnerable of students when governments make cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and leave publicly-funded universities with holes in their budgets. We can see the students, staff, faculty, parents of university students, and the millions of Ontarians who have benefited from the innovations that our universities and colleges bring to our economy. Again, we can’t stop the dominant control of the right-wing if we don’t unite under a common banner.
Together, progressives — whether liberal, social democratic, socialist, or even progressive conservative — can work to offer an obvious and ambitious-yet-pragmatic change for Ontarians. And such a coalition of like-minded parties and people can form a new political party while doing so — just recall the success of the Saskatchewan Party. As said before, all the parties in the coalition don’t have to agree on everything — and, they won’t — but there is more in common than there is in dispute. It is clear from this election that we need a new way of doing politics. It’s the only way we can move forward.
Of course, this isn’t a perfect solution. But if you’re tired of picking between different flavours of progressive and of “strategic voting,” then it’s time that we build an option we can unite under. Division and constant dissent often leads to a progressive movement that begins to fracture into irrelevancy. This is the situation in Ontario. That’s why it’s high time for a new and popular progressive coalition of Ontarians that wants to work together instead of squabbling eternally. It’s a tall order, but I believe that we can achieve it.
And it’s about time that we actually start working toward it.
Logan Liut is a second-year student at University College studying European Affairs and Political Science.