The challenge ahead for the labour movement and progressive voters is great.
Doug Ford’s election as premier of Ontario marked a significant change in the politics of the province, and the country. Ford stands for policies that are opposed by the labour movement and by progressive voters across the Canada.
Here is no downplaying the challenge of trying to pursue progressive policies while the Ford Conservatives are in power.
We have been here before, however. We know how to do this.
Every labour leader in Canada has deep experience sitting down with employers whose agendas are diametrically opposed to their own. At the end of the day, however, we always reach a deal we can take back to our members. It’s not always easy, but we always get there.
For 10 years with Harper government in Ottawa, we pushed back by consistently offering a positive alternative to the regressive policies of his government. We pushed back hard when needed, of course, holding rallies and standing firm to his government’s policies.
We also took a seat at the table, met with politicians of all stripes and made sure the voices of working people and their communities were always heard in the halls of power.
Labour, it must be said, was not alone in this. Advocates for the rights of marginalized groups, for Indigenous people and other racialized communities, LGBTQ groups, women’s rights organizations, advocates for the homeless, addiction workers and more all made their voices heard throughout the Harper years – both in the streets and speaking directly to politicians from every party.
With Ford as premier in Ontario, it is time to do all that once more. We’ve done it before, so we know we can go it again.
We won’t be alone. There were many strong and progressive voices elected to the Ontario Legislature in the face of the Conservative blue wave. In fact, the NDP is sending one of its largest and most diverse caucuses ever to represent Ontarians, including Gurratan Singh, brother of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, in Brampton East, and Bhutila Karpoche in Parkdale High-Park, the first Tibetan ever elected to public office in North America. Even in the Tory ranks, there remain some moderate voices.
The challenges ahead will be great. We can’t fool ourselves about that. The election results revealed some deep splits in the province. Urban ridings went mostly to the NDP and the Liberals, while more rural ridings sent Conservatives. Ridings with a stronger union presence such as Windsor and Hamilton were also more likely to go NDP. Northern Ontario is now mostly represented by the NDP, with the Conservatives and the Liberals each taking only one riding north of Mike Harris’s old Nipissing riding.
We cannot allow these divisions define the politics of Canada, however - not for the next four years with Conservatives in power in Ontario, not ever.
For one thing, we need to remember that while Ford’s Conservatives won a strong majority in the legislature, the party claimed just 40 per cent of the vote. This has inevitably led to renewed calls for of electoral reform. This debate is welcome and overdue.
We will, of course, make sure that Ford and his government are not allowed to forget that 60 per cent of Ontario voters preferred a more progressive and optimistic vision of the future than was offered by his party during the election.
It is perhaps more important, however, to take some strength from that fact that while the Conservatives won power at Queen’s Park, progressive voices won the hearts of the people. It is up to us to make sure those voices continue to be heard as we build for a stronger and more inclusive future.
There is little doubt that Ford stands for policies we oppose. His platform was low on details, but it was clear he opposed planned minimum wage increases, and advocates tax cuts that favour the well-off.
We must work hard to ensure the division and anger that brought Ford to the Premier’s office are not what defines the next few years. We must present a strong and positive vision for the future, and be prepared to work hard to make it possible.