The Ontario Liberals under Dalton McGuinty have been handed another majority government, similar in scope to their victory in 2003. The Liberals captured 71 seats, compared to 26 for the Conservatives and only 10 for the NDP – virtually the same numbers that existed before the election campaign. Although on the surface it may look like Dalton & Co. have done a fantastic job for the past four years to deserve a victory of this scope, you get a different story when you dig a little deeper.
Just before the election campaign began, we wrote, “There is absolutely no confidence amongst workers for the two bosses’ parties. The Liberals and Conservatives have both proven to be equally corrupt and equally dangerous to the livelihood of workers. If the latest polls continue to hold true, either party could emerge victorious by the slimmest of minorities. Likely holding the balance of power will be the NDP.” Obviously, the results ended up being a bit different than what we had predicted, but that is more to do with the self-destruction of the Tories during the campaign than workers embracing the Liberals. In fact, the opposite is true; barely 52% of registered voters bothered to cast a ballot, the lowest turnout in Ontario’s history!
All of the so-called experts in the corporate media state that the turning point in the election campaign was John Tory’s stand on using government money to fund private religious schools. It is hard to believe that this would be the defining issue in the Ontario election when there are several more pressing issues in the minds of Ontarians, such as the net loss of 200,000 manufacturing jobs in the past four years, cuts and attacks on municipal services, raising the minimum wage, dealing with rampant poverty, etc. The only reason that religious school funding came to dominate the election campaign was because the corporate media decided to make it the defining issue. NDP leader Howard Hampton correctly stated that religious school funding was nothing more than a red herring, in order to divert voters’ attention away from real important problems facing everyday workers.
No confidence in Dalton
The Liberals may appear to be in a position of strength but in reality, they will be forming a very weak government. Nearly half of Ontarians couldn’t be bothered to vote. The Liberals’ share of the popular vote decreased somewhat from their victory in the 2003 election.
As in 2003, the Liberals were forced to lean on the support of some of trade unions (notably the teachers’ unions and the CAW) to secure victory. The Liberals’ campaign was peppered with promises of minor reforms for workers. This isn’t because McGuinty is “Mr. Nice” (as the Toronto Star calls him); instead, it is based on political survival. There is no appetite for a return to the Mike Harris and Ernie Eves years, and Ontario workers have made it clear in the last while that they are willing to fight back against the government and the bosses. A string of by-election victories by the NDP forced the Liberals to bring out their “Poverty Budget” back in March. This also means that Ontario workers will be less likely to tolerate large-scale attacks by the McGuinty government and will be emboldened to demand more. A Toronto Star column suggested that the Liberals may a have a tough go with “a tough round of collective bargaining with teachers and doctors, whose contracts expire next year.” (11 Oct. 2007)
And although the Liberals and Tories captured 42% and 32% of the popular vote, respectively, this was a drop from their share of the popular vote in 2003. The NDP and the Greens, on the other hand, actually improved on their share of the popular vote by a slight bit, further indicating more discontent with the status quo.
Where was the NDP?
The NDP’s results are quite disappointing. Earlier in the year, the NDP was riding a crest of momentum after having captured three ridings from the Liberals in by-elections. Several polls had them topping 22 or 23% support across the province. The NDP’s $10 minimum wage campaign was receiving a lot of attention and forced the Liberals to promise to raise the minimum wage to $10.25/hr by 2010.
The NDP failed to gain any more seats at Queen’s Park in this election, and their share of the popular vote was only 2.5% higher than in 2003. The NDP also lost the riding of York-South Weston which they had convincingly won back in January on the basis of the minimum wage campaign.
To a certain degree, the corporate media played a nefarious role in the NDP’s poor showing. As mentioned earlier, the corporate media decided to ignore issues that threaten the bosses’ interests and decided to focus on funding for religious schools. The NDP was hardly ever mentioned with the “liberal” corporate media doing everything possible to promote the pro-capitalist Green Party.
However, the leadership of the NDP needs to shoulder a lot of the blame. Although the Ontario NDP platform was reformist (and certainly more left than that of the federal NDP or the NDP in BC, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba), it didn’t go far enough to entice workers to rally behind the NDP. For instance, the NDP’s solution to the job losses in the auto sector was to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to the Big Three – the same policy that the Liberals implemented after getting elected in 2003. The NDP should have come out calling for the nationalization of the auto sector as the only defence for manufacturing jobs in Ontario.
The NDP failed to impress with post-secondary education, as well. Instead of advocating for free tuition for students, the NDP was simply proposing to cut tuition back to 2005 levels and then freeze tuition until the next election. However, that means that the average university undergraduate in Toronto would still be spending about $5,000 in tuition every year! The NDP needs to present a more radical programme, one that addresses the real needs of people, for workers and youth to not just vote but to get active in the NDP.
The second major failing of the NDP is that it must stop being simply an electoral party and become the political expression of the working class movement. As was very aptly proven in this election, the NDP cannot depend upon the corporate media to get their message across to the whole of society. The NDP cannot also simply depend on its members and supporters every four years or so. The NDP must begin to organize and engage workers and youth in day-to-day struggles and become a movement itself – not limiting itself to parliamentary manoeuvres at Queen’s Park. The NDP needs to adopt socialist policies that will inspire activity. Even in this election, there seemed to be quite a disconnect between activists and the NDP, as if both were mutually exclusive spheres of work. For the NDP to succeed, it needs to connect with the movement of workers and youth, and vice versa.
Contrary to Dalton’s Mr. Nice image, Ontario workers will need to brace themselves for another tough four years. When we look back at all of the attacks and setbacks for the working class since McGuinty took power in 2003, we can only shudder at what the next four years are going to bring. It makes it imperative, though, that workers begin the fight back against government cuts and attacks now, and push for the NDP to become a genuine expression of the workers’ movement in Ontario, one that will stand for the socialist transformation of Ontario and the rest of Canada.