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Mike Harris: Der Taxfighter

John Bell

May 17, 2018

~ Originally published June 14, 1995

The day before the Ontario election, finally admitting the probability of victory for Mike Harris (aka Der Taxfighter) and his Reform-Tories, one of my comrades tried to console me.

“The working class has never yet won an election.” 

I knew what he meant and I knew he was partly right. The whole parliamentary system is stacked to protect and promote the interests of the people who control business, people with money. It takes a not small fortune just to run for office. Democracy is reduced to a sideshow that comes as often as a leap year.

And the parliamentary alternative that does have links to the working class, social democracy, inevitability is bent to the will of money whenever it takes office. We’ve seen that first hand in Ontario.

But even if it is true that workers never win an election, it is equally true that they can lose some elections worse than others.

Which brings me to Der Taxfighter and his 82 seat majority at Queen’s Park. Up and down the canyons of Bay St., you can still hear the echos of the champagne corks being popped. I recall one of the election night pundits saying that Der Taxfighter wasn’t the bozo everyone thought he was, in fact he was a “class act.”

Truer words have seldom been spoken on TV. Der Taxfighter set the agenda for the election with a platform aimed at getting workers to vote against their own class interests. Ontario business wanted Der Taxfighter to “restore the balance” between business and labour, and they poured more and more money into his campaign fund when he began to rise in the polls.

Thanks to Der Taxfighter’s plans to cut business taxes, to use workfare to drive down the minimum wage, to repeal the anti-scab law and to balance the budget by slashing social services, the bosses think they can have it all their own way.

I’ll admit it, the election results are depressing. But now that I’ve had a couple of beers to console myself, it is time to come to terms with it and with the tasks ahead.

First, why did tens of thousands of Ontario workers dump Bob Rae in favour of Der Taxfighter?

Sure, the NDP stabbed workers in the back with its social contrick. Many workers understandably wanted to “punish” the NDP as a result.

But who is going to absorb the punishment for the next four years? Bob Rae? Hell no, he’ll find some nice academic job once the party dump him as leader. The ONDP? Well, they are set back, but they’ll blame it all on bad personnel, choose some new faces that talk out of the left sides of their mouths, and bounce back in a few years.

It is the workers who voted for Der Taxfighter who are going to take it on the chin.

Voting for Der Taxfighter to punish the NDP is sort of like the chickens punishing an egg sucking dog by inviting the wolf into the hen house.  Let’s just say it is rather short-sighted.

But I can’t lay too much of the blame at the feet of Ontario workers. Not when some of their trade union leaders refused the NDP the endorsements and financial support it needed in its campaign.

When the NDP was bringing down the social contrick these “leaders” refused to lead a fightback to preserve union contract rights because “the NDP is our friend.” Now, after sitting around with their collective thumb up their collective bum, they try to deflect workers’ anger and cover their own stupidity by laying all the blame at Bob Rae’s door.

Der Taxfighter has said his first order of business will be to wipe out Bill 40, the anti-scab legislation. Are we to trust that these same trade union leaders are now capable of leading the fight needed to defend the one reform the NDP left us?

Depressing? Mildly so, but not the end of the world. Don’t believe the crap about a massive shift to the right that all the papers are pooting. Support for Der Taxfighter is, as they say, a mile wide and an inch deep.

Be prepared for the spectacle of thousands of Ontario workers – probably including plenty who voted for Der Taxfighter – protesting in the street when he tries to make his plans a reality.

The trade union leaders will be forced to do something, even just a token action, to defend their dues base and to damn well justify their own sorry existence. But in this volatile situation, even a spark of a token action could set off a blaze of militant fightback.

The coast to coast to coast resonance of the Bread and Roses march against poverty by women in Quebec shows that workers are looking for a real way to fight back, a real alternative to the kind of democracy that gets rolled out every four or five years smelling of mothballs.

If the trade union leaders won’t build the fight, let’s get organized to push them out of our way.

Conclusion: don’t mourn, organize.

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