A candidate for major office with policies that appeal to the most progressive elements of the political left who is also the safe choice for so-called centrist strategic voters is kind of like a unicorn. It seems like Ontario may have found their unicorn in provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

According to a recent poll by Maclean’s and Pollara, Horwath and her party are in second place with 30% support. They trail frontrunner Doug Ford whose “Progressive” Conservatives are leading with 40% support, but are beating incumbent premier Kathleen Wynn whose Liberals are down to 23% support.

The writing is on the wall, or rather on everyone’s screens. Wynne can’t win. If you want to stop Ford Nation from taking over Queen’s Park, you have to vote NDP. Even right-leaning media are admitting Horwath won the first leaders’ debate.

Strategy Meets Solid Progressive Policy

So Horwath is the practical choice for those who don’t want to deal with a Ford at the provincial level. But what about those who see the Liberals as only a slightly less spiteful and ridiculous option than Doug?

Well, last time around, the NDP, under the same leader, desperately tried to position themselves as a watered-down version of the Liberals, to the chagrin of the party faithful. Now, the official ONDP Twitter account is posting stuff like this:

But they’re backing up the sassy tweets with a truly progressive platform that prioritizes universal dental and pharmacare, re-nationalizing Hydro One, turning student loans into grants, improving care for seniors by ending “hallway medicine” and raising taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. Solid old-school NDP policies all, but the spin they put on some of them is just brilliant.

Bringing Hydro One “back into public hands” is coupled with an estimated 30% reduction in Hydro bills. Meanwhile, “creating thousands of student jobs” is the addendum to their plan to subsidize tuition.

But the best messaging, hands down, has got to be this:

“Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share.”

They have successfully found a way to pitch a longstanding socialist solution to economic inequality as an appeal to the most coveted demographic for so-called moderates, the middle class.

More Left Through School and Weed

Another poll, this one by Forum Research, predicted a PC majority with the NDP as a “strong” Official Opposition. Since it doesn’t really matter how strong the opposition is in a Majority Government, the ONDP need to find a way to do just a bit better than predicted and overtake Ford or at least hold him to a Minority Government.

The only way for them to do that is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, just push a bit further. This is not the time to retreat back into old ways. Playing it safe, this time, means pushing the envelope more.

Horwath has her party’s traditional base back. Now she needs to mobilize new voters and get them excited enough not just to cast their ballot but to volunteer as well.

Proposing free tuition would be one way to do it. They could even announce how they plan to pay for it: with weed.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Bear with me for a moment.

When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, Wynn plans to tightly control it through the LCBO. Ford, meanwhile, wants a free market, something that has garnered him support on the left.

The ONDP has remained pretty much silent on the subject and I understand why. Wynne’s position is extremely unpopular, especially among NDP supporters, but championing the free market just seems so un-NDP.

But in this case there is a third way. Have the government run medicinal marijuana and cover it as part of pharmacare but open up recreational pot sales to any business that successfully applies for a permit.

The government can regulate the product for quality and ensure proper labour standards and at the same time get a chunk of sales tax from all the places selling it, way more than they would from the mere handful of stores Wynn wants. Then they use the new revenues to pay for post-secondary education.

The spin is simple:

Wynn wants to privatize essential services like hydro and nationalize recreational products like pot with a plan that will make it unprofitable for Ontarians. Ford wants the Wild West. We see this as an opportunity to improve Ontario’s economy and provide a free education for all Ontarians.

It’s just one idea, but I’d hate to see the most left-leaning party that has a chance blow it and lose to Doug Ford over weed. The ONDP should really have a position on this issue which is currently wooing potential future hardcore supporters far to the right.

No matter what they decide to do on this front, though, Ontario New Democrats need to remember that their path to victory is keeping their traditional base and inspiring a new base with bold progressive and unabashedly socialist policy, pitching it in a way that doesn’t terrify suburbia, and driving the point home that Wynne can’t win and the only way to keep Ford Nation and all of their regressive social policies out of Queen’s Park is to vote NDP.

A unicorn is special because it’s a unicorn. If it tries to pretend it’s just a horse, then it loses any advantage it had.

* Featured image by E.K. Park via WikiMedia Commons

As the results trickled in last Thursday night throughout Ontario one thing was obvious, Kathleen Wynne had succeeded where many had failed before – she rendered a swift and decisive blow to the austerity agenda in Ontario.

But the true question that lingers after this 41st Ontarian electoral cycle is how much of this victory can be attributed to the Liberal campaign and Kathleen Wynne, and how much is due to an impressive anti-Hudak campaign? Thursday’s vote must be seen first and foremost as a refutal of the cuts to social services, to the public service sector, to the continuation of the dismantlement of the Ontario welfare state, and the “tea-partyesque” agenda of Tim Hudak & Co. This is bad news for the Conservative movement on the federal level as well. It seems that there will be no Common Sense Revolution “take two”, and it appears that the Ontario neo-liberal laboratory is vacant. The majority of Ontarians aren’t ready to go down the Harris road anytime soon.

Kathleen Wynne

The Ontario election was insightful, in purely electoral terms for the Canadian left. Kathleen Wynne proved that taking austerity head-on during a campaign, wrestling economic issues away from the right, and redefining these issues in social terms – not purely abstract statistical ones – is a winning equation.  But this doesn’t mean that the spectre of austerity is defeated once and for all, but rather much to the contrary. As we know too well, unfortunately a campaign on the left doesn’t automatically translate into a government on the left.

But one thing that cruelly lacked on the left during this campaign was a strong link with the social movements that have been shaking up Ontario since the onset of the big crunch in 2008. Striking students against outrageous tuition fees, working families fighting for a living wage, public sector employees struggling against cuts across the board, Indigenous communities that spearheaded the idle no more movement, were nowhere to be seen.  The incapacity of the Ontarian left to foster such strong alliances with grassroots campaigns and to build a movement that not only defeats austerity, but creates the place for an alternative agenda to grow, is the main reason why austerity might have been defeated at the ballot box, but it surely hasn’t been defeated in Queen’s Park.

Many have said throughout these past few years which have seen Tim Hudak as leader of the Conservative Party of Ontario that he has “snatched (time after time) defeated from the jaws of victory”. This is certainly true, but if this Ontario election is an indication of anything, its surely that Ontario is in the mind space for a strong progressive government. And yet the Ontario electoral left has missed that rendez-vous… at least for now. The Ontario left might have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, but still be defeated, the Conservative agenda might,within the next four years, prove to be the real victor of this exercise in democracy.


We must view the Liberal Party of Ontario’s victory Thursday, as a mandate for a progressive government that will finally break with the Harris legacy. The Liberals won because they were successful in convincing the Ontario electorate that they were the only ones that could defeat the Hudak tea-party crusade, but that’s a detail. The Liberals aren’t so much the big victors of Thursday night as much as the Ontario Tea Party is the big loser.

The Reform revolution started circa 1987 in the Canadian west, which for the past 30 odd years has spread like wildfire through all levels of government, is the loser of the electoral night. It has been a movement that has profoundly transformed Canada and dominated the political discourse in this country. That’s the true lesson for the left at the wrap-up of this Ontario election: the space for a strong left-wing movement that builds campaigns such as the 14$ minimum wage in Ontario, the campaign for non-commodified education, the campaign for a Robin Hood tax, for affordable housing for all. These are just to name a few. The political space for a strong left-wing, social-democratic, socialist – call it what you want – revival on the Canadian political stage is within our grasp.

The lesson to take from this election is that we have to have the audacity on the left to fightback. If we define ourselves within the rhetorical space that is given to us by the neo-liberal consensus, without trying to jailbreak and offer an alternative, then we’ve lost before we’ve even gotten started. This will only be achieved if we succeed at unifying social movements on the ground with a political caucus in Queens Park, and only if such a caucus becomes the voice of the aspirations and vision of the various social justice campaigns.  Canadians from all walks of life are asking for an alternative.

It’s about time we have a true left campaign that forms a true left government, that implements true left policies.

A luta continua.

Monday morning the province of Ontario officially initiated a new electoral cycle which will end on the 12th of June, but Ontarians have been gripping for an election since the departure of scandal ridden Dalton McGuinty in October 2012. Since that fateful day, the Liberal Party of Ontario under the leadership of premier Wynne has been trying desperately to shed their old skin and rebrand themselves as a renewed progressive force in Ontario politics.

Now the Liberal Party of Ontario in many ways is more “progressive” than their current federal counterparts and Dalton McGuinty’s line and the policies spearheaded by his government were in many ways more to the left of the policies that were defended by the Liberal Party on the federal level. They did have concerns for social justice and the fight against inequality at heart, theoretically speaking.

The downfall of the LPO government came as a surprise to many. The absence of readiness for this election is most noticeable in the way that the political parties themselves, even the NDP, were caught off guard by the swift dropping of the writ.

When NDP leader Andrea Horwath decided to announce to her fellow Ontarians that she would vote against the Liberal budget, thus prompting an election, the media pundits ran amok in every column and every article online and on paper denouncing the NDP’s hypocrisy, voting against a “dream budget” for pure electoral reasons. They were all out-of-line.

When Andrea Horwath appeared in front of the cameras on Friday, a day after the budget was tabled at Queen’s Park (the name of the Ontario Provincial Legislature) one word was key in her speech: confidence. It might as well have been hypocrisy.

public private partnerships

The LPO has been in government for the past ten years, almost eleven, and their track record is quite obvious. The centerpiece of their policy is undeniably the public-private partnerships that have become the motto and the modus operandi of the province of Ontario.

The “yours to privatize” motto was first largely implemented by the respective Harris cabinets in the 1990s and many are quick to draw a very clear distinction between the Liberal administration and the Harris era. And in the rhetorical terms and in theory they were different but in practice… well not that much!

The LPO are truly the champions of rebranding in the sense that they have had the ability to make the privatization pill go down with greater ease. But no matter what you call it privatizations are still privatizations, and “public-private” partnerships are privatizations on steroids.

In the dimension of “public-private” partnerships, the government in most cases has only one role: to foot the bill. If anything goes wrong, the costs are socialized but the profits are privatized.

It’s a carefully crafted strategy to guarantee the façade of public institutions while privatizing more and more sections within them. Thus the “public” side is slowly but surely supplanted by a more robust private sector with a lot of help from the government, supposedly the champions of strong, affordable, public institutions.

Either the Liberal party of Ontario is corrupt, hypocritical or naïve to its core. Their naivety is best manifested in the idea that somehow you can table a progressive budget that is supposed to reinvigorate the Ontarian safety net, social security and help fight against the growing inequality in the province while on the other hand continue to defend ardently the public-private partnership scheme.

Unfortunately those two positions are incompatible and that is why anyone that stands for social justice and for the defense of public systems of health care and education had to oppose the “dream budget” put forward by the LPO because that’s exactly what it is, an illusion.

Big shot corrupt politicians and their corporate puppeteers are waging a war on Canadians. The battleground is everywhere, from our taps, the schools we learn in and the roads we drive on to the hospitals we stay in. Public Private Partnerships, or P3s, is the name, robbery is the game.

On November 7th, these big shots from across Canada partied at the most posh hotel in the country, the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. The biggest corporate executives, powerful media editors, and politicians from almost every major city and province showed up to mingle.

The Canadian Council for Public Private Partnerships, the CCPPP, was having its 21st National Conference. An organization committed to ensuring as many government contracts for pubic infrastructure and public services are given out as concessions to big shot corporate capitalists. They’ve already got deep ins with every level of government in the country.

Saskatchewan anti-P3 campaign
Saskatchewan anti-P3 campaign

Allison Redford, Premier of Alberta, is their Honourary Chairperson. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario, kicked off the conference with a keynote address. They came to scheme about how to turn everything we love into P3s.

CCPPP defines P3 in two ways. The first, there must be provision of public infrastructure or a pubic service. This could be roads, wastewater treatment, the building and operation of hospitals, schools, anything. CCPPP defines the second as the transfer of “risk” from public sector to the private sector. Allowing the private sector to run the show, but making sure the public picks up the bill. This is done at a premium. Capitalists need to make more than marginal profits, they wouldn’t “risk” their money for anything else.

“Risk” is an odd word. Generally, in big shot business-speak, it maps the safety of investments in the open market place; whether or not their capital investments will flourish; a brand of t-shirt will become hip; or a bond will mature. These things don’t apply to public infrastructure. There is essentially none to little risk, the market is guaranteed, people need services.

Business folk and corrupt politicians know this. For the corrupt politicians, they can hide big budget expenditures like the construction of hospitals through annual payments of their usage. For big shot capitalists, they can overcome the marketplace and get a no “risk” investment, with scandalously high returns, with the best client in the country, Canadian taxpayers. At best it is ironic, at worst it is manipulative double speak. Either way, it is robbery. They get rich and make a mess of the country.

P3s have a terrible track record. In England, under the terrible leadership of Tony Blair, prisons were privatized. The first one to go was Ashfield Prison. It was a disaster. After less than a couple years, the BBC called it the “worst prison in the country.” Riots broke out, hundreds of inmates had to be removed. While a few blokes got fat off the public dime, poor folks in prison suffered in misery.

In Montreal, things are just as bad and getting worse. The McGill University Hospital Centre, MUHC, was supposed to replace aging infrastructure and become one of the most state of the art hospitals in the world. Phillipe Couillard and his Liberal Party of Quebec buddies decided it would be a P3. Arthur Porter was made director, SNC Lavalin under CEO Jacques Lamarre, a frequent keynote speaker at the CCPPP National Annual Conferences, paid millions under the table to get the contract. Lamarre resigned before the scandal hit.

muhc under construction
MUHC SuperHospital still under construction

And McGill doesn’t even want to associate with it. Hundreds of millions of cost overruns, staff losing their jobs, a province in further financial ruin. The rich get richer, the poor get a crippling public debt to supplement their private debt.

Things are only going to get worse. At the Conference, Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, touted the Economic Action Plan 2013. In it, a new and terrible stipulation, all infrastructure projects over $100 Million would have federal funding conditional on a P3 Screen. If it is better suited to go private, it must. Or no money.

Who runs the P3 Screen? P3 Canada, a new Harper Government department dedicated to making sure as many First Nations reservations, municipalities, territories and provinces use P3s. P3 Canada even has a corporate board of governors, among them, you guessed it, Jacques Lamarre.

Why aren’t you reading about P3s? Why isn’t the media speaking up and being critical? Before Regina Mayor Michael Fougere took the stage to talk about how he duped the citizens of his city into selling off wastewater treatment, John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail had a cozy chit chat with Jin-Young Cai. Jin-Young is the CEO of the International Finance Corporation. His whole job is making sure poor countries sell off their public infrastructure and services to the lowest bidder.

John and Jin-Young don’t care much about the billions wasted and stolen in P3 robberies like eHealth, Orgne, the MUHC or the gas plants scandals. The Mop and Pail is happy with it. They want more… around the world. The question is: how far will they go?