The incredible banality of political being in Ontario’s 2022 election
Uninspiring choices and a dearth of class politics will almost surely guarantee low voter turnout in the upcoming vote
In social relations, it is often said that pride goeth before the fall. What prefaces the parliamentary cretinism that flows from the crowning of bourgeois governments? The 2022 election campaign in Ontario provides an answer: banality.
Has there ever been a campaign so insipid? So incapable of rousing anyone but the most fevered reactionaries or conflicted (messianic if middle-of-the-road) social democrats? Liberals are likely to be stuck in the sickly sweet syrup of cotton-candy politicking that orchestrates the moves of all mainstream parties, while the Greens, longing for legitimacy, are desperately seeking another solitary seat. People will vote, of course, but almost certainly in depressingly low numbers. They will cast their ballots, like they participate in a variety of bodily functions, out of little more than what they regard as biological necessity, and with not much more in the way of enthusiasm.
Conservative leader Doug Ford campaigns under the banner, “Let’s Get It Done.” Unable to deliver on a previous election promise of “Buck-A-Beer,” the bauble-dispensing premier bribed voters with a refund on their paid-up automobile license plate stickers. That’s enough for a few packs of two-four and, what with promises to build, build, build, it has earned him the endorsements of the smaller and more conservative construction unions. Since Ford is going to win in a walk, there being no credible opposition let alone any audacious alternative, why not throw him some electoral love in the hopes of getting a sweetheart kiss of jobs and honest graft in return? Why not, indeed, some of the more unimaginative among the trade union tops are clearly thinking. Well, what about class politics, you might query? No sign of that anywhere.
The NDP’s Andrea Horwath exemplifies social democracy’s backing away from any statements that might be misconstrued as bringing class into the electoral picture, let alone fighting for socialism. She takes this politics of retreat to its logical conclusion. Perhaps ripping a partial page from Biden’s “Build Back Better” playbook, she wants to “Fix What’s Broken!” Like capitalism, I guess, since it is clearly busted. The dysfunctionality of the profit system is at the root of all of the evils the ordinary people that Horwath and the NDP lionize are now suffering through. Modern day social democracy likes to tidy capitalism up, but this never resolves what ails the exploited and the oppressed.
As the campaign fix is in, and “affordability” is Horwath’s tepid appeal, she sounds not all that different than Ford, who also promises to rein in inflation. This resonates with the much-vaunted, respectable, middle class that all parties now cater to, but it will do little to alleviate poverty, resolve the escalating crisis of the homeless, revive flagging production and the working class malaise that registers in an enervated trade unionism and underlies attacks on social programs—or tackle the widening gulf separating the rich from the rest of us. If parties like the NDP are not willing to seriously tackle income distribution through revising the script of capitalist-induced destitution, acquiescing in programs of austerity and retrenchment, they do little to separate themselves from their business-boosting colleagues across the political aisle. And why, given this reciprocity, would voters go with a perennial also-ran who is saying much the same as the frontrunner? Which is probably why the bottom is dropping out of NDP support, which polls indicated recently crashed below the 20 percent threshold.
The Liberals are the obvious beneficiaries. The NDP’s falling support registers in their rising in the polls, albeit modestly. And no wonder. They are talking as much about the working class as the NDP. Zero-name-recognition Liberal leader, Steven Del Duca, is easing into the social democratic laneway with a pandemic-inspired proposal to balance work and life through the implementation of a four-day work week. He wants Horwath to stop sniping at him and the ghost of Liberal governments past, and lash-up a coalition of “progressives” that will get rid of Ford. But this isn’t moving the provincial NDP into any Trudeau-Singh-like alliance: close enough to power and having drunk at the trough of Official Opposition, social democrats aren’t cozying up to the Liberals yet. They know that few political figures—and this is going some when the main adversary is Doug Ford—are as unappealing as Del Duca, who gives the impression that, as a former minister of transportation in the Kathleen Wynne government, he had already been driven as far as he could go in politics. He couldn’t even win his own seat in the last election. But his pitch for gun reform may garner a few suburban votes in his Vaughan-Woodbridge riding this time around. The median annual household income of over $105,000 is higher than the national average (the comparable figure in my riding of Northumberland is less than $50,000), and the carjacking of Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner’s $125,000 Land Rover at an Etobicoke mall has struck a bit of fear into the well-heeled, in ways that Black youths killed on downtown streetcars by racist cops never could.
The Green Party’s Mike Schreiner did win his seat, and he is undoubtedly the intellectual and political giant among this dreary troika of wannabe premiers. He is certainly as pro-worker as the NDP, and has attacked Ford effectively on legislation that freezes public sector wages. Front-line workers like nurses have borne the brunt of the pandemic, heard themselves rhetorically hailed as heroes, but are now told by Ford’s government, amid soaring inflation, that their purchasing-power pay is being cut. The Green leader is well situated to assail a government that, in the good company of its federal and provincial counterparts, has done nothing to address the climate catastrophe. But Schreiner, who loves to proclaim that at Queen’s Park he “punches above his weight,” isn’t exactly able to deliver any knock-out blows. He’s in a ring by himself, and the voters know it.
This is an election Ford cannot lose. Ironically, the pandemic saved him from himself. Everyone thought that he would, Donald Trump-like, crash and burn in a mish-mash of incompetence. There was a lot of mish in his mishandling of things, but compared to other provincial and federal leaders, Ford wasn’t much worse. He didn’t mash his chances of being re-elected. Unlike Jason Kenney, he has kept his caucus in line. Given that no other leader and the parties they head going to the polls have been able to rise to the occasion, Ontario will remain ruled by Tories.
It won’t be pretty. Banality seldom is. And with the economy in the toilet, corporations gouging consumers and driving an egregious inflationary surge, the pandemic giving no sign of letting up (both Horwath and Schreiner tested positive for COVID-19 after a recent televised leaders’ debate), and reactionary rollbacks on many fronts in the making, the next four years living in an Ontario rechristened Ford Nation will likely be harrowing. It is unlikely, for instance, that Canadian political culture will be entirely immune from the ugliness emanating from the United States, where the state-orchestrated, Supreme Court justified attack on women’s right to choose threatens to push back one of the few fundamental post-1960s gains to survive the depressing times of recent decades. Even if this fight will largely be fought out in the federal arena, the parliamentary cretinism that is coming to Ontario could be destructive of a great deal. Ford and his ministerial entourage will be responsible for that, to be sure, but so too are those opposition parties that claim to speak a different political language and stand for entirely different principles, while delivering virtually nothing in the way of substantive alternative.
We do indeed need to fix what is broken in order to replace what is rotten and cannot be resurrected. The first task in getting this done, however, is to revive the movements of labour and the left and bring back into the political arena the basic realization that there is a need to fight the battle against capitalism, its regime of unimpeded accumulation, and its economic, political, social, and culture morass of acquisitive individualism. This constitutes nothing less than a war waged against us all. That none of the parties vying for votes in the 2022 Ontario election have this even remotely in mind condemns us to a future that will almost certainly be dangerous and destructive. Banality in the face of impending catastrophe can give you brutality.
Bryan D. Palmer, a long-time contributor to Canadian Dimension, is the author of the recently-released James P. Cannon and the Emergence of Trotskyism in the United States, 1928-1938, published in 2021 with the Historical Materialism Book Series. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario, and is currently writing a history of Canadian capitalism and colonialism from 1500 to the present. He doesn’t hold out much hope for the 43rd Ontario parliament, and on June 2, 2022 will be spoiling his ballot.