A government for which people?

As we anticipated, Doug Ford has wasted no time getting down to the business of creating, in his words, “a government for the people.” He has urged Ontarians to “embrace change,” as he sets out to bring an end to “oppressive” taxes.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel terribly oppressed by paying taxes that I know are being used for health care, education, the environment, and the many other things that make Ontario a decent place to live. Unlike Ford, I do not think that “no dollar is better spent than the dollar that is left in the pockets of the taxpayer.”

Even minimal attention to the environment is a thing of the past in this province for at least the next four years: Ford has ended the cap and trade program, cancelled an almost-complete wind farm project in Prince Edward County (at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $100 million), put the brakes on subsidies to people who buy electric cars and to the construction of electric charging stations and declared an end to all “unnecessary renewable energy projects.”

Claiming a “clear mandate” (despite receiving only 40% of the popular vote) Ford is holding true to many campaign promises, with swift action to get rid of Hydro One’s CEO and Board of Directors, whose positions will no doubt be filled with people sympathetic to Ford’s agenda.

Back to basics

The sexual health curriculum introduced in 2017 by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government – a curriculum that actually talked to kids and young people about sex, consent and staying safe and healthy – is gone; replaced by the curriculum from 1998, before same sex marriage was legal in Canada and before sexting, online distribution of intimate images and other uses of social media became popular.

Police will be freed from “onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn.” No mention is made of what those onerous restrictions are, although presumably this is a veiled reference to Ford’s decision not to implement the Safer Ontario Act, which would have expanded the scope of police oversight bodies and enhanced policy transparency and accountability, and no examples are given of the suspicion and scorn to which the police are allegedly subjected. Given the history of police violence and racism generally, many might think that greater restrictions on police behaviour would be helpful to protect those who are really treated with suspicion and scorn — members of marginalized and racialized communities.

Days of action revisited?

Many of us remember the bad old days of Mike Harris and his common sense revolution that, between 1995 and 2002, took Ontario so far backwards the province has yet to get back to where it was before his election.

Hundreds of thousands of people participated in an ongoing campaign, largely organized by the labour movement, called Days of Action, that consisted of massive marches and organized one-day work walkouts. Others organized direct action and civil disobedience events.

Despite the huge numbers of people involved and the broad range of actions, Harris and his government were elected to a second term.

Does that mean we need to do something differently this time? I think the answer is yes.

Creating a community-based democracy

The present government does not offer the people of Ontario a democracy. Only 58% of eligible voters voted in the June election. While that was the highest turnout in almost 20 years, it is still abysmal. Of those who voted, fewer than 50% voted for the Conservatives.

The Liberal party has just seven seats and no official party status, creating what is, in effect, a two-party government. There is no meaningful Opposition, even though the NDP had the best results it has ever had.

Let’s take this opportunity to start to change the face of democracy in our communities and provincially.

We could hold People’s Forums and invite – in fact, insist – that our NDP or Liberal or Green MPPs attend so they can hear directly from us what we want them to talk about at Queen’s Park, so we can suggest some strategies and offer our support.

We talk to them; they don’t talk at us.

While it is unlikely that this government will entertain any thoughts of electoral reform, let’s talk about it in our communities and educate people to understand what alternatives to FPTP mean.

And, with municipal elections across the province slated for this fall, let’s get involved in local politics, either as candidates or to support those who offer progressive, community-minded possibilities.

Let’s show Doug Ford and his large and small c conservative colleagues – whether MPPs, municipal politicians or voters – what a government for the people would really look like.

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