With the Liberal majority now evident, the necessary question for self-identified progressives should be: what does this mean for the future of social justice struggles in Ontario? The Liberals have promised a budget that increases spending in a wide range of important areas, but they have also promised to impose three years of austerity after that. This makes it clear that their ostensibly progressive platform was only a cover for the same unimaginative, undemocratic program promoted by McGuinty-appointed bank economist Don Drummond in his austerity commission report. This will impose even more pain for the middle class, not to mention the poorest and most vulnerable in this province, whose numbers are growing.
On CBC radio’s election-night discussion of the results, it was repeatedly emphasized that the Liberals’ win would result in an overall program of “serious fiscal restraint” and public-sector austerity. Neglected in that coverage was any mention of the costs that would impose on those who can least afford it, and who are least responsible for the recent economic downturn. Nor did anyone mention the duplicity of the Liberals’ campaigning on a “progressive” budget while promising three full years of spending cuts (when population growth is factored in). Also not highlighted was how, to a significant extent, that direction was agreed to by the three major parties and how, therefore, austerity was the clear winner from the moment the election was called.
Unfortunately, while able to claim a significant short-term tactical victory, the anyone-but-Hudak campaign revealed a bankruptcy of meaningful strategy. The campaign failed to propose alternatives to the multi-party consensus on austerity, or present a vision for reducing inequality. Also left unexamined was that all major parties backed spending reductions which, only a decade ago, would have been at home in any fiscal conservative extremist’s platform—a fact barely mentioned by “progressives” in the labour movement or the mainstream media. This after a world financial crisis that was caused by the schemes of bankers and hedge fund managers who have escaped, not only unharmed, but almost immeasurably better off at the expense of the rest of us.
What can the left do to respond to this situation? Those within the NDP need to organize for a new leadership that is not afraid to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable in the province. They should also marginalize the strategists and pundits who took sides against longtime core supporters critical of the party’s direction under Andrea Horwath. This should not be dismissed as a futile avenue for political action, even though it also has its obvious limits. Regardless of what the NDP becomes, those on the left have a responsibility to organize effective political alternatives, both inside and outside the electoral system, which have the capacity to threaten the establishment consensus on what the limits of possibility are in Ontario. Without such alternatives, it is extremely unlikely that this province will see meaningful social change anytime soon.