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After the Ontario election: build the fightback against austerity


June 13, 2014

 
Tim Hudak promised to slash 100,000 jobs and impose “right to work” legislation to smash unions. He promised to eliminate green jobs and signed a petition to defund abortion. His humiliating defeat show voters have no appetite for austerity, but that’s exactly what a Liberal majority will bring.
 
There’s a sigh of relief across Ontario as the Tories lost 10 seats and Hudak lost his position as party leader. His chilling promise that “hope is coming” in the form of 100,000 jobs losses clearly did not find support across the province. But thanks to the NDP the only beneficiary were the Liberals, who now have a majority to continue imposing austerity.
 
Liberal strategy
For more than a decade the Liberal party has closed hospitals, raised tuition, ignored the environmental crisis and attacked workers--from revoking transit workers right to strike, to imposing Bill 115 on teachers.  The Liberals supported the Drummon report and have already imposed 80 per cent of its cuts.
 
This provoked increased anger, including high school walkouts in support of teachers, and 30,000 people marching on the Liberal convention in January 2013. Having lost 17 seats the prior election, it seemed like Liberal rule might end, only to bring in the Tories.
 
So the Liberals elected a new leader, buried their previous record, campaigned to the left, offered minor concessions, and now have a majority once again.This cynical ploy was encouraged by the NDP leadership.
 
NDP
As Socialist.ca warned in January 2013: “Wynne is seen as a progressive candidate. But as a McGuinty cabinet minister she has been a staunch defender of the austerity agenda. Wynne looks poised to coalesce the anti-Conservative vote because of a political vacuum created by the absent NDP. Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak has been loudly calling for union busting and gutting public spending. Wynne’s victory is clearly the Liberals making a left tack in an attempt to find voters. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horvath could not be bothered to show up at the January 26 protest, and the NDP’s response to austerity and attacks on union rights has been muted.”
 
The Liberals correctly read the political terrain, seeing that people were fed up with austerity and scared of Hudak, and that he could be defeated by campaigning to the left, which they cynically did. But the NDP drew the opposite conclusion--that they needed to embrace austerity and appeal to Tory voters. So they triggered an election by defeating the budget from the right, refused to support the campaign for a $14 minimum wage, campaigned with a slogan reminiscent of Mike Harris, promised to impose budget cuts, and attacked their progressive critics.
 
This played into the Liberal strategy--providing a progressive gloss to their budget, letting them take credit for the minimum wage increase, and building “strategic voting.” There was nothing “strategic” about voting Liberal: it defeated left-wing MPP Jonah Schein and nearly cost Cheri DiNovoo her seat, in riddings in which the Tories were not a threat.
 
But “strategic voting” was encouraged by the rightward drift of the NDP, which wasted an opportunity to build movements and handed the Liberals a majority. Had the NDP defeated the Liberal budget from the left, calling for a $14 minimum wage, defence of unions and opposition to Line 9, it could have galvanized activists across the province and put us in a better position to fight austerity after the election. But this would have required an electoral alternative to social democracy, which can only emerge from movements.
 
Build the movements, join the socialists
Despite the NDP,  a worker’s rights campaign emerged against Hudak, and has to continue rebuilding unions and confront the Liberals when they drop their progressive rhetoric. The campaign for a $14 minimum wage and against Line 9 continued through the election, and will need to increase the pressure on Wynne.
 
People frustrated with the NDP and social democracy should not vote Liberal or get stuck in futile work to “reclaim” the NDP, but build the movements out of which a left alternative can emerge, and join the International Socialists so we can accelerate this process.
 
Come to the discussion "The NDP and the crisis of social democracy", June 14 at UofT. Speakers include Judy Rebick, Nora Loreto, David Bush and Ritch Whyman. This is part of Marxism 2014: Resisting a System in Crisis, organized by the International Socialists and sponsored by rabble.ca. For more information visit marxism2014.ca

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