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Zimmerman: Ontario’s Election – What’s Left?

September 29, 2011

What is the Left in Canada?  Typically Canadians would respond that the NDP is the Left, but many question the true “Leftness” of social democratic parties in a post-Blair’s New Labour age and with the major upheavels worldwide, not to mention the radical actions such as the unfolding Wall Street Occupations in New York.   We’re in a time where the world is shifting drastically and the spectre of revolution emerges from Egypt to Iceland and from Greece to Wisconsin.  Well, it’s that time of year again, an election, and those of us who consider ourselves to be “of the Left” first and foremost are weighing our options.  On October 6th, 2011, Ontarians will go to the polls to elect their new government.  There are some of the most radical of the Left that oppose participation in any of the three major parties, while there are many budding revolutionaries who vote NDP as it lands closest to their values, and then there are the plenty of Dippers who see the NDP as the best route to positive, real progressive change. 

 The Ontario New Democratic Party, with its new leader Andrea Horwath, is poised to increase its seats this election.  This is a certainty.  After years of relative immobility under Howard Hampton, it seems that the Ontario NDP will now gain seats.  While it is less likely that Horwath will be the next Premier of Ontario (although it’s certainly not impossible), gains will definately be made in certain ridings.  The question here is, for someone who considers themself an out-and-out Leftist, is the ONDP worth your vote and/or your support?  I do not aim, in this article, to fully answer that question, as I am not 100% positive myself.  I personally will be voting NDP (reason why is further below).  A number of factors explain why the ONDP is going to do better: 1) the stigma of Bob Rae is gone, epitomized by Horwath in the televized leader’s debate when she said “Isn’t that guy your federal leader now?” when McGuinty brought up Bob Rae’s often-scorned stint as NDP Premier of Ontario back in the 1990’s.  2) The major victory of the federal NDP in the last election will likely influence voters in feeling that an NDP vote is no longer a wasted vote and that the NDP is a serious contendor for leadership.  In some ridings that recently went to the federal NDP (in Toronto, for instance, York South-Weston, Davenport, & Scarborough Rouge River) voters may also be pushed to vote NDP for the provincial counterparts. 3) Jack Layton’s passing may also play a factor, as much as I hate to talk strategy about the loss of a life, it is true that the many positive achievements of Layton have been brought to the forefront of the public’s consciousness with his passing.  People may feel all warm inside from the recent memories and vote NDP as a result.  These are speculations, but I definately think they are factors in what lay ahead.

So, we know the Ontario NDP will do better, but are they really what real progressives should be looking for?  Is casting a vote for Horwath’s ONDP really the “Left” thing to do this October 6th?  Well, it was just a few short years ago, back in 2009 when Andrea was openly using the word “Socialist” to describe NDP policies.  Ontario needed “socialism” according to Horwath.  But now that we are in election season we haven’t heard too much of that talk.  The ONDP platform, particularly in regards to student issues and the HST tax issue is arguably not as progressive as we are used to.  Elsewhere on this site Dodich gives a detailed account of this phenomenon: http://theopposition.ca/2011/09/12/dodich-ontario-ndp-platform-filled-with-little-progressive-substance/  Take a look if you haven’t already, Dodich brings up a lot of good points and I generally agree with his main point.  The Horwath platform isn’t too progressive and as a whole it looks like there is an attempt to steer the party rightward towards the Centre, much like there is on the federal NDP scene.  In times like these, do we really need the NDP to act more like the other parties, or do we need to seriously be considering alternatives, real alternatives, to the status quo?

Recently we have also witnessed the birth of a new party that claims to be a Left-Wing alternative to the current NDP.  Michael Laxer, along with other disillussioned Dippers, have formed this party recently and called it The Socialist Party of Ontario and is running candidates in key ridings in the Toronto area.  Laxer explains that the purpose of this party is to shift the discourse Leftward, particularly in these times of such upheavels against neo-Liberal globalization.  Here is an interview I conducted earlier this year with Michael Laxer on the subject of the SPO.  It is a casual coffee-talk interview:

I don’t think that the SPO expects to win the province, as they physically can’t since they dont have enough candidates, but it will be interesting to see how each of their candidates do and if they succeed over the next few years of actually shifting the provincial conversation Leftward.  Only time will tell.  This being said, there is no SPO candidate in my riding, so it is a clear choice for me.  Tom Rakocevic is running for the ONDP in my riding of York West (York University & Jane-Finch area) against long-time incumbent Mario Sergio.  Sergio is a backbencher who is seldom seen save election time.  Last provincial election he said it was his last time running and that he would head into retirement by 2011.  He wasn’t being honest since he is now running again.  Rakocevic has worked in York West for years as an assistant to a local city councillor and has met many people in the community.  The choice is pretty obvious to me.

That being said, there are various ONDP candidates this time around that I believe are definately worth supporting, whether you are a moderate Dipper or an-allout radical revolutionary.  They can bring positive change to the community and many communities need the change now and cannot wait until a future date.  Whatever positives things can be accomplished through the ballot box must be tried.  Some Toronto-based candidates, along with Rakocevic, come to mind.  These include Jonah Schein who is running in Davenport.  Schein comes from a very grassroots Left-wing background, having run against Cesar Palacio, one of Mayor Ford’s cronies on council, with what has been called a very, very Left-wing platform focusing on anti-poverty as a central plank.  Schein also was a involved with the Greater Toronto Worker’s Assembly, a staunchly anti-capitalist organization, as well as having done various grassroots community organizing.  Anyone “of the Left” should have no qualms about casting their vote for Schein.

Schein is given a boost along with a few other candidates in Toronto, including Paul Ferreira (a loyal to the party dipper and community organizer) of York-South Weston, by the recent announcement by Andrea Horwath of the ONDP’s plans to oppose the use of diesel fueled trains running along a rail-line being constructed from Union Station to Pearson International Airport.  McGuinty wants these trains to use fuel, while a grassroots organization called the Clean Train Coalition has lobbied for the train route to be electrified.  Horwath has come on fully in support of electrification due to the detrimental effects of the use of diesel of the health of the people living in the neighbourhoods along the corridor.  Both Jonah Schein of Davenport and Paul Ferreira of York-South Weston are poised to represent communities where the proposed route passes through.  This is a cause worth supporting.

Watch these videos if you wish to know more about the Clean Train Coalition and the proposed diesel-fueled trains.  This is an interview I conducted with Mike Sullivan (who is now the Canadian Member of Parliament for York South-Weston):

For part 2 go to my youtube channel at : jmzimmerman1984

I would also like to add that Cathy Crowe who is running in Toronto-Centre is also a worthy candidate.  She started out as a street nurse and has been called the “Riding’s Saint”.  She is definately involved for all the right (or Left) reasons.  October 6th, 2011 will usher in change.  I think a minority government is looming, whether its Hudak or McGuinty…or possibly even Horwath is up in the air, but change is assurred.  Whether this is the kind of change people will want is unsure.  Where the Left in Ontario is remains uncertain, but the election may bring a greater conversation on this matter.

The federal party is also going to be an arena for great ideological showdowns in the upcoming leadership race in that vaccuum left by Layton’s untimely departure.  Whether the NDP can lead the country to real progressive change or turn into another discredited “Third Way” is unsure.  The showdown looms.  Let’s hope we don’t end up with this:

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to always question : “What’s Left?”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Randi4 Andi permalink
    November 15, 2011 3:59 pm

    We all loved Andy.

    Even when he was a chubby little boy he would come down to The Barracks and the Richmond Street Health Emporium.

    One hard playful slap and you could ride the waves for 10 minutes!

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