Can we make lemonade out of these lemons?

lemonsWell, it is official now. Just in time for Canada Day, Doug Ford was sworn in as Ontario’s Premier. Perhaps you have tried to avoid thinking about this moment since election day just over three weeks ago or perhaps you have spent that time trying to figure out what we need to do to survive the next four years.

Of course, only time will tell how many of Ford’s worrisome campaign promises will actually be acted on. This is a time when many of us, instead of criticizing politicians for not following through on their promises, are hoping against hope Ford and his Conservatives will fail to deliver.

Looking back at the votes

The results of this election reinforce the argument that we should move away from the FPTP electoral system. The Conservatives received approximately 40% of the popular vote, the NDP 33%, the Liberals 19% and the Greens 4%.

If the popular vote were translated straight across into seats, the breakdown of the 124 spots in the legislature would have been (approximately): 49 to the Conservatives, 41 to the NDP, 23 to the Liberals, 5 to the Greens and the rest divided up among a number of fringe parties.

Of course, alternatives to FPTP are more nuanced than the simple arithmetical conversion I have done, but all of them would lead to a result far different from the one we have: Conservatives with 76 seats, NDP 40, Liberals 7 and Greens 1.

Doug Ford has not just a majority, but a majority with only one party in opposition. With only seven seats, the Liberals no longer have official party status, which means they have lost, among other things, funding for research and staff salaries and the automatic right to ask questions in question period.

While Ford has the discretion to grant official party status to the Liberals, there is no indication that he will do so, meaning that, despite the significant gains made by the NDP in this election, Ontario effectively has no opposition for the next four years.

The non-voters

Ontario has a history of having the poorest voter turnout in provincial elections in the country; not a record to be proud of. In this election, the turnout was the highest since 1999, when Mike Harris and his Conservatives were re-elected to a second term, but still came in at just 58%. Up by almost seven percentage points from 2014, this is still nothing to brag about.

Diversity? Not so much

Ford has wasted no time seizing the reins of power. His swearing-in happened in very short order after the election. He has announced his cabinet and has plans to call the next sitting of the legislature for next week.

Ford’s cabinet is the least diverse Ontario has seen in some time. Of the 21 positions (down from 28 under Wynne’s leadership), only one-third have gone to women. There is only one visible minority member of this new cabinet.

The Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation has disappeared, replaced by the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Indigenous Affairs. This is a shocking move at a time when federal, provincial and territorial governments are committed to reconciliation.

Gone, too, is the Ministry of the Status of Women. Instead, we have the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and Women’s Issues. What this means to the Gender-Based Violence Strategy, announced in March, remains to be seen, but eliminating the Ministry with primary responsibility for its implementation does not bode well.

What’s the rush?

It is unusual for a new Premier to call the legislature together as quickly as Ford is planning to do, especially in the summer. However, he has issues he wants to act on quickly, some of which require the legislature.

Top action items for this new government appear to be:

  • Dismantling the cap and trade system
  • Reducing the price of gasoline
  • Ending the strike at York University
  • Rolling back the sexual health curriculum introduced by the Liberals
  • Implementing a line-by-line audit of spending by the previous government

Almost equal voice for women

One bright light in the otherwise grim election results is the number of women elected to the legislature, who now make up 40% of MPPs, up from 33% in the last election, and the highest number in the province’s history.

In the NDP, 20 of their 40 seats are held by women. Four of the seven Liberal seats are filled by women. The Conservatives rank last of the three major parties, with 24 of their 76 seats going to women.

It wasn’t perfect before

As we consider how to move ahead with our resistance to this new government, let’s not idealize what has come before. Yes, Ford’s government promises an array of grim possibilities, but poverty, racism, environmental degradation, poor energy decisions, inadequate public health care, lack of child care and affordable housing, misogyny are all issues activists have advocated for and demonstrated about for decades, with little positive response from elected governments. 

Maybe that’s why fewer than 60% of Ontarians bother to vote.

One thought on “Can we make lemonade out of these lemons?

  1. Thanks for this Pam. Doug Ford has said “help is here!” for lower and middle class citizens. These are precisely the people who need help from the areas of government being reduced and who would benefit most from the promised increase to the minimum wage (that Ford has said he won’t implement). The not-for-profit sector who serve those citizens Ford identifies as “struggling” and whose jobs are most likely to be cut in the anticipated reduction of government funded services also don’t have pensions, few benefits and little security about the future. How is this not the most vicious of circles?

    I blame unregulated capitalism. It’s what keeps people fighting for the scraps at the base of the social hierarchy. Even the scraps are deeply resented by those who never have to fight for survival. They resent paying taxes, they resent government programs that support those who are disadvantaged by the systemic greed, hate and corruption currently running our world. We have known for decades that ‘trickle down’ economics don’t work for anyone but the rich. And yet conservatives continue to invest in various forms of the same lie. In 2017 – five Canadian Bank CEOs got a 7 per cent pay raise to collectively earn $53.6 million. A single hockey player signed a $77 million dollar 7 year contract. It is clear who is valued and who is not. Those doing the work of squeezing the lemons won’t be able to afford the lemonade in Ford’s Ontario.

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