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To beat Scheer, fight Ford

Fightback against Ford can sink Scheer
John Bell

June 7, 2019

As the fall federal election looms, the strategic voting rhetoric is coming to a boil. Not surprisingly, most of the talk originates with the Liberals who are anxious to erode Andrew Scheer’s lead in the polls.

The Tories have been able to attack Trudeau on two fronts: from the hard right, by portraying him as soft on “illegal immigration”, and by playing up the SNC-Lavalin scandal as evidence of Liberal corporate corruption.

Of the two claims, the only one Trudeau could legitimately refute is the first one. In the spring omnibus budget bill the Liberals included an attack on refugee claimants that pandered to the Conservatives’ base.

As far as corporate corruption goes, the truth – that the Liberals and Tories are alike as two profiteering peas in a pod – is sidestepped. Trudeau supporters show an uncanny ability to strap on the blinkers and say: “Bad as we are, the Tories are worse.”

Scheer’s support is declining. But even mainstream observers attribute this to the meteoric collapse of support for Doug Ford’s Ontario Conservative government.

Ford’s cuts and attacks on public services have been so violent and swift that even other right-wing politicians, from Toronto’s Mayor John Tory to Scheer himself, have distanced themselves from him.

In just a year the tide has turned so decisively on Ford that the politician who made his reputation for never backing down has, at least temporarily, retreated from some of his cuts. Given Ford’s track record, and ideological commitment for attacking public services and organized workers, that retreat is not likely to last past the federal election.

And the worst of the cuts, like the cuts to education and health care, remain in place.

It would be a huge mistake to ease up on the fight against Ford now, when opposition is widening and deepening.

The pressure will be on to back off from the protests and demonstrations that have fueled opposition to Ford’s cuts so far, to put energy into electoral campaigns instead. This will include falling into the trap of supporting the Liberals as a lesser evil.

Go on the offensive

When the cracks in the Tory façade appear is precisely the time to increase the offensive, not back off. Protests and demonstrations against Ford’s policies have been a weekly, almost daily, occurrence for the past year. The problem hasn’t been a lack of will to fight back; it has been that the fightback has been fractured and disorganized.

The blame for this scattering of resources and anger has to be laid at the door of the leadership of the trade unions (although it must be noted that some unions, like the Canadian Union of Public Employees and teachers, have a better record than others).

Calls for action from the rank and file have been met with half-hearted measures at best, and outright betrayal at worst. Just ask the Oshawa GM workers.

We don’t have to wait for the next election to beat Ford, and we don’t need to back the slightly less vicious cuts of Liberal austerity to save us from Andrew Scheer.

The Ontario Federation of Labour has put out a call for a Day of Action on June 7 to mark one year of Ford’s government. The call is too timid by far, but it would be a mistake to just sit on the sidelines and pooh-pooh it.

Rank and file activists have to grab opportunity and resources that are there, make the most of them, and use that platform to demand bigger and better action. And we can already see the snowball of Ford opposition growing as it rolls down the hill.

At the recent CUPE Ontario convention, delegates voted unanimously to defy any back-to-work legislation that may be introduced in the education sector. That motion will now be sent to the Ontario Federation of Labour convention.

That shows where the mobilizations can lead and should be supported. But the fight needs to grow. Failure to do so will mean a lost opportunity to fight Ford, set back Scheer and turn on Trudeau. Now is the time to expose the austerity agenda they all represent.

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