Ford proclaimed a “strong, stable majority government,” but the Ontario election results don’t represent a surge to the right. Instead there has been a polarization to the left and to the right, and Ford’s own voting base includes both those pushing for austerity and those angered by it. While Ford is strong in the legislature he is weak outside, where cuts will alienate a section of his base. But because he has a majority of seats the NDP can’t just rely on opposition inside the legislature, and will need to amplify the opposition outside.
Liberal collapse: good riddance
After 15 years of Liberal austerity—with rising inequality and declining social services—voters had enough. In the 2014 Ontario election the Liberals temporarily tacked left and monopolized the anti-Hudak vote, gaining nearly 250,000 votes, but then returned to austerity. They tried the same tactic in the past few months, raising the minimum wage under pressure from the Fight for $15 and Fairness, but it was not enough to erase the accumulated experience of austerity. With their polling numbers collapsing they revealed their true colours as the twin party of Canadian capitalism—attacking unions and undermining the NDP vote, helping ensure a Ford majority. Indeed, after conceding defeat a few days before the election, Wynne called for as many Liberal votes as possible in order to hold whoever forms government in check, equating the threat of brutal cuts under Doug Ford with an NDP majority.
The Liberals still clung on to 1.1 million votes, but the loss of 750,000 votes plus the surge in voter turnout from 51% to 58% cut their share of the vote in half—from 39% to 19% of the vote. This decimated their seats in the legislature, reducing them to 7 (their worst results ever) and costing them official party status. Voters surged to the polls to thrash the Liberals, and their vote hemorrhaged both to the right and to the left.
Contradictions of “Ford Nation”
Ford rode the anger against austerity to victory, gaining 800,000 votes and nearly 50 seats to win 76 seats in the legislature. The last time any party has had as many seats was Mike Harris’ 1995 victory, which was followed by rapid and brutal cuts. Ford hinted at a repeat of those policies in his acceptance speech, declaring Ontario “open for business,” but he said nothing about tax cuts, layoffs, attacks on abortion, or destruction of the environment. Instead he led with the message that got him the victory, that “help is here,” and that he will inaugurate a “government that works for the people,” and deliver “prosperity for all.”
He is well aware it was not his planned cuts to jobs and services that earned him victory. In the last election Tory leader Tim Hudak revealed his plan to rule for the 1% and suffered the consequences: after promised 100,000 job cuts, he lost 200,000 votes. By contrast, Ford repeated on the campaign trail that his government would hire “thousands” of teachers, doctors and nurses, tapping into widespread sentiment for improved public services. Ford tried to mask his 1% roots by appealing to the 99% at the same time: although he promised Bay Street $6 billion in cuts, he also promised workers he would be the “Premier for the people,” he would “stand up for the little guy,” there would be not one single job loss, and that he would end hallway medicine. While he stoked anti-immigrant racism by saying “we need to take of our own first,” he then campaigned as “a champion for new Canadians” to build a base in racialized communities. While he won the party nomination on a plan to stop the $15 minimum wage he did not have the confidence to even mention this during the campaign, or at any of the debates. Ford’s electoral victory was based on holding together the conflicting constituencies of “Ford Nation”— bosses eager for more austerity, and workers angered by it. These contradictions will become more obvious when Ford forms government and struggles to meet the massively raised expectations of all those who voted for him.
Ford’s “majority” does not even represent the popular vote: 40% voted for him but 60% voted against him. And looking at the combined Tory/Liberal vote (the two parties of corporate Canada), it’s share declined from 70% in 2014 to 60% in 2018. For the 1%, the vote for corporate parties has been reduced but concentrated in one party instead of two, and there is increasing opposition both inside and outside the legislature.
Opposition inside and outside the legislature
During the 2014 election election the NDP refused to support the higher minimum wage and were outflanked by the Liberals—who monopolized the higher voter turnout against Tim Hudak. This time the NDP had a more progressive platform including support for the $15 minimum wage and increased funding for healthcare and childcare. A stronger platform at election time, combined with the higher voter turnout and collapse of the Liberals, doubled the NDP seats to 40. They gained 800,000 votes – just as many as Ford did – again showing the polarization to the left and right.
The failed smear campaign by the right-wing press also showed that people are eager for change. They attacked Jill Andrew (NDP candidate for Toronto St. Paul’s) for calling out police chief Mark Sanders who criticized the Black Lives Matter action at Toronto Pride in 2016, and she won. They attacked Gurratan Singh (NDP candidate for Brampton East) for protesting the police, and he won. They attacked Joel Harden (NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre) for being a socialist, and he won—beating the Liberal Attorney General by over 8,500 votes. They attacked Laura Kaminker (NDP candidate for Mississauga Centre) for being a peace activist, and she nearly doubled the NDP vote, coming in second with more than 11,000 votes.
But starting in third place and facing a hostile corporate media, the NDP needed not only a decent platform to win; it should have been campaigning much more aggressively on these issues between elections. Had they done that in the years—rather than just the months—leading up to the election, they could have monopolized the anti-Liberal vote and beaten Ford. With the NDP now the “Official Opposition,” there is a real danger it will retreat even further from the social movements that help generate its support, and adopt a far more cautious “government in waiting” stance. This would be a disaster, restricting their opposition to moderate voices inside the legislature instead of being a megaphone for the opposition outside the legislature.
Ford has his majority government but it is not stable. He may have a majority inside the legislature intent on cuts, but there is still a majority outside in favour of a $15 minimum wage, healthcare, abortion rights and the environment. Ford only achieved his legislative victory by riding the wave of anger at Liberal austerity and blurring his true intentions. So when Ford moves forward with his cuts, a section of “Ford Nation” will feel betrayed. Effective organizing that leads with class politics—not name-calling, smugness or denunciations—can win over a section of Ford’s base.
The first opportunity to do so will be the critically important Rally for Decent Work on June 16. The movements need to spring into action now and raise the demand, “Hands off the minimum wage!” The Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign engaged thousands of voters during the election, many of whom decided against voting for Ford when they discovered he promised to roll back the $15 minimum wage.
There will be an even bigger audience of people, including those who did vote for Ford, who will be angry at any attempt to attack the minimum wage. June 16 is an opportunity to pry open that contradiction in Ford’s base, and begin the work of expanding the reach of movements outside the legislature to resist Ford. By redoubling the Fight for $15 and Fairness in every union and every workplace, opposing privatization and austerity, and challenging racism and discrimination in every form, we can fracture Ford’s base, push the NDP to amplify the resistance—and bring the real change that all political parties promise but only movements can deliver.
First published by socialist.ca