With the high num­ber of newly elected MPPs at Queen’s Park, many of them young, it’s an op­por­tune time to think about how we chal­lenge the busi­ness-as-usual ap­proach to pol­i­tics


They will be talk­ing about On­tario Elec­tion 2018 for years to come. It started with the un­prece­dented – the dra­matic down­fall of the PC leader in an elec­tion year. That was fol­lowed by a hasty lead­er­ship con­test and a bounce back for a po­lit­i­cal party the likes of which we have rarely seen.

In be­tween, we wit­nessed the im­plo­sion of the Lib­eral party, slid­ing from ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment to seven seats and the loss of party sta­tus; the el­e­va­tion of the NDP to of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion, but fall­ing far short of the chal­lenge to be the agent of change at Queen’s Park; and the elec­tion of the first Green Party MPP in On­tario, Mike Schreiner.

Change was the bal­lot box ques­tion and change is what On­tario will get.

But the new gov­ern­ment got elected on a thin plat­form that wasn’t fully costed out. Econ­o­mist Hugh Macken­zie es­ti­mates there is a $13.75 bil­lion hole in the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment’s plat­form prom­ises.

To put that into per­spec­tive, Macken­zie notes that On­tario’s to­tal spend- ing on ar­eas other than health and ed­u­ca­tion is about $55 bil­lion a year. The fis­cal hole the new gov­ern­ment faces rep­re­sents a quar­ter of that amount, which means spend­ing cuts, bro­ken prom­ises, deeper deficits or a com­bi­na­tion of all three.

There were claims $6 bil­lion in “ef­fi­cien­cies” could be found with­out lay­ing any­one off, but there is lit­tle doubt that cuts are com­ing.

Low-in­come work­ers also stand to lose out if the new gov­ern­ment makes good on its prom­ise to freeze the min­i­mum wage at $14 an hour in­stead of rais­ing it to $15 next Jan­uary.

The PCs are promis­ing to take those work­ers off of the in­come tax rolls in­stead, but work­ers would be fi­nan­cially bet­ter off with a $1 raise.

Even though the new gov­ern­ment will in­herit a deficit of at least $6.7 bil­lion, one of its prom­ises is to im­ple­ment $2.8 bil­lion in in­come tax cuts.

The pledge has been framed as a mid­dle-class tax cut – it’s any­thing but. The bot­tom 60 per cent of On­tario earn­ers (any­one mak­ing less than $49,208) would re­ceive, on av­er­age, just seven bucks a year. The rich­est 10 per cent would get an av­er­age $1,168 in ad­di­tional tax cuts.

In a province where the in­comes of the bot­tom half of house­holds has been drop­ping, the tax cuts on of­fer will only widen the growing gap be­tween the rich and the rest of us.

It’s im­por­tant to note that the plu­ral­ity of vot­ers ac­tu­ally voted for po­lit­i­cal par­ties who promised to ex­pand, not cut, so­cial pro­grams. They voted for a $15 min­i­mum wage, for more af­ford­able child care, for univer­sal den­tal care and phar­ma­care.

It’s also im­por­tant to note that 58 per cent of On­tar­i­ans ac­tu­ally voted. Voter turnout hasn’t been this high since 1999. But an Ipsos elec­tion-day poll in­di­cates 42 per cent of vot­ers who went to the polls voted strate­gi­cally. An­other elec­tion waged on an “any­body but…” ap­proach should be seen for what it is – an in­vest­ment in the pol­i­tics of cyn­i­cism that di­vides us and erodes our faith in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions to en­act change.

If this elec­tion teaches us any­thing, it is that we des­per­ately need elec­toral re­form, so that peo­ple are lib­er­ated to vote ac­cord­ing to their val­ues and not strate­gi­cally based on what they don’t want.

Elec­tions can be po­lar­iz­ing and this one was. Given the ap­petite for change, it’s im­por­tant for pro­gres­sives to fo­cus on a new nar­ra­tive and for On­tar­i­ans to start talk­ing about our dif­fer­ences. Democ­ra­cies don’t run on au­topi­lot, nor are they just about vot­ing every four years. The con­ver­sa­tions we have with our neigh­bours, friends and fam­i­lies in be­tween elec­tions are equally im­por­tant.

With the high num­ber of newly elected MPPs at Queen’s Park, many of whom are young, it’s an op­por­tune time for us to think about how we chal­lenge the busi­ness-as-usual ap­proach to strate­gi­cally pur­sue pro­found, struc­tural changes to ad­dress in­come inequal­ity, cli­mate change, press­ing so­cial is­sues, elec­toral re­form, the fis­cal health of pub­lic cof­fers and fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights.

If peo­ple want change, let’s make sure that it’s change that works for the ma­jor­ity, not just the wealthy few. 3 Tr­ish Hen­nessy is direc­tor of the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Pol­icy Al­ter­na­tives’ On­tario of­fice. | @nowtoronto

Democ­ra­cies don’t run on au­topi­lot – the con­ver­sa­tions we have with our neigh­bours, friends and fam­i­lies in be­tween elec­tions are also im­por­tant.

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