The recent by-elections told a tale. They were hopeful and showed a glimpse into the future. Predictably, party “spin doctors” make their best efforts to shape the messages. We must see past this spin to three emerging themes.
Theme one sees Ontarians sending a clear message to Liberals and their leader. Dishonesty and political self-interest will not be tolerated. Premier Wynne was given clear direction that the austerity path of her predecessors is not the road the people of Ontario want to travel. Draconian cuts that paralyzed the economies of the European Union are seen by Ontario voters for what they are: a way for the rich to get richer.
Theme two indicates people are tired of playground politics and sound-bite politicians.
Tim Hudak, poster child for both, was all smiles going into the by-elections. He played up the old political axiom of downplaying expectations, while counting on the opinion poll trends to put him onto a path to prosperity. He felt that his party would make big gains. Looking at the result, he was as wrong as his advisors and pollsters.
How could the right be so wrong? It started with ridiculous PC white papers attacking union rights, influenced by the equally ridiculous right winger Randy Hillier. Added to that were Hudak’s by-election candidates. The Tories selected five men, all loaded up with the same speaking points. Cut taxes. Kill unions. Dismantle public services and give corporate pals everything they want.
This resulted in just one close win for that party. And that Toronto win can be chalked up to their well-known deputy mayor (on leave) candidate supported by the Ford brothers. Ironically, these were the same brothers Hudak steered clear of when brother Rob’s crack pipe scandal hit the press.
The day after the votes, Hudak even rambled off a very strange victory speech. It was pre-crafted for the by-election outcome he wanted, rather than the reality of that “morning after”. He was Robot-Tim to the end. I call it embarrassing.
Hudak, the loser in four of five ridings said the following at subsequent media conferences:
"We had the most votes across the province, the most votes in the city of Toronto, and that's going to translate into big gains whenever we get around to this next election." Also, “Ontario signaled through the result, that it wants change to bring in more jobs, better take home pay and respect for taxpayers.”
Talk about spin. The vote results, heavily in favour of New Democrats in all but one riding, with the Windsor New Democrat candidate gaining 61% of the vote (to the PC candidates 20%) do not relate to the first Hudak quote. In a similar manner, the election of two NDP candidates to the PCs one, indicates the public thinks NDP policies are best. Spin that Tim!
The third theme was Ontarians recognition and reward for hard work and decency.
Andrea Horwath's New Democrats wrote the real story of by-election night. First, they had a massive victory in Windsor-Tecumseh, the home of past Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. Next, they prevailed, with a big margin, in London West, the riding of former Energy Minister Chris Bentley. They also nearly pulled off a near impossible upset in Scarborough East.
New Democrats proved that the right candidate, combined with the right message, delivered by the right leader, can capture the imagination of people looking for progressive change. The left got it right. I am proud to say that OPSEU was with them in every by-election riding.
So let's recap. There were five Liberal Cabinet Minister seats going into the August 1st by-elections. That day two Liberals, two New Democrats and one PC were elected. They were two women, two septuagenarians and a former aide to ex-Premier McGuinty.
Politicians all tend to be personable people. They have to be, given their work requires strong connections to voters. For some this is a surface quality while for others it has substance. This is why I also want to mention Ottawa South Liberal winner John Fraser. Even as a Liberal he is one of the nice guys as a true problem-solver.
This by-election also taught us a few other things. While the corporate media clearly lined up against the NDP, the people of Ontario did not.
We can see that the Toronto Sun (and their satellite publications elsewhere) is shameless in support for the Tories. Similarly, the Globe and the National Post have followed suit. We can also see that the Toronto Star is allied with the Liberal party. Even small, corporately controlled community newspapers never miss an opportunity to have a right wing candidate or politician on the front page.
On the other hand, we should be encouraged that people are turning away from lap dog journalism towards real time truth as found in social media channels. This is why, notwithstanding obstacles, New Democrats are on the rise.
Ontario didn't get into the current mess in just the last decade. Since the Liberal Peterson era, scandal, derision and political hostility chipped away at the Ontario advantage. Peterson, Rae, Harris, Eves and McGuinty failed us. They chose winners and losers in political games marked by narrow interests for their intended results. Their choices were not the right ones for the province and its people.
Now each current provincial party leader is trying to move out of the shadow of their predecessors. For Premier Wynne and Tim Hudak, both having served in the cabinet of men who abused power, an escape from judgment is not likely.
The only leader who remains apart from the ghosts of the past is Andrea Horwath. She remains disconnected and unassociated to the Bob Rae era. She is also a tireless worker. This gives Andrea and her team (of now 20 MPPs) a clear path ahead.
For people of Ontario and the NDP hard work, honesty and compassion are back in style. August 1st just proved it.
Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
First Vice-President/Treasurer, OPSEU