Many of us have compared Ontario’s Conservative Leader and Premier Designate Ford to United States President Donald J. Trump. But Ford isn’t Trump.
Naming a politician Trumpian in Canada is not a new phenomenon. We last heard this when we all decided that Conservative federal leadership hopeful Kelly She was to be Trump-North. So much so that progressives were encouraged to buy membership into the party and vote for her opposition. In the end Kelly Leitch came in 5th, and has since decided to quit politics.
As many of us in Canada understand politics through the lens of United States, let me explain what’s actually happening in another way: In late 2015, Canada elected it’s Justin Trudeau. Think of him as Obama (yes, they are not the same). Now, just over three years later, Canada is having it’s state elections. In 2010, Republican Governors significantly increased their control of the state legislatures in Obama’s first term.
Something similar is happening in Canada. A right wing Conservative government is now in control in Ontario, a right wing Conservative party under former Federal Minister Jason Kenney is running to take control of Alberta in Spring 2019 elections. The CAQ in Quebec, also a right-wing party, is poised in the polls to take over power in October 2018. And British Columbia recently elected its more centre-left government of the NDP who holds on to power with just one vote.
The election of right-wing governments in the United States saw a rollback of reproductive and labour rights, increased cuts to public services, drop in wages and working conditions, increased police violence and increased support for ultra-right elements at the state level. The same is poised to happen in Canada.
The shift at the state / provincial level should not be seen as a right-wing shift in the electorate, but rather the election of an agenda which made and will make people’s lives even more miserable, and create the conditions for them to look for solutions. Without an alternative from the centre-left, the ultra right option may take the day.
But the change, like in the United States, won’t be immediate. Despite the increased Republican control of states in the 2010 elections, Obama won his second term in 2013 handily. Donald J. Trump did not become President until 4 years later in 2017.
Now of course, Canadian provinces are not the same as the US states. The economies are structured differently in terms of public services. Republican governors had far more powers and ideological support to slash and burn for example healthcare and public education than provincial centre-right governments will in Canada.
But the similarities are important enough to see these centre right elections as an entrenchment of an agenda that may create a Trump-north, not now, but down the road.
So if Ford is not Trump-north but the doorway through which Trump-North will emerge, what is to be done? Some initial ideas for discussion:
- In places like Alberta and Quebec where right-wing parties have not yet seized power, effort should be made to keep them out or their mandates weak. And yes, that is going to be hard.
- In places like Ontario or Saksatchewan where right-wing parties now control governments, it would be important to also build groups, organizations and institutions that are focused on building membership (that is meetings, assemblies and spaces for people to meet and plan politically) rather than divert all energy into meeting the needs of people who will be suffering more. These organizations will be critical to educating people and organizing them so that they are not swept away by populist messaging.
- At the same time, thought and strategy will be needed to put in to defending people as the old methods of protest and criticizing through media may not work against a government that will just ignore bad press.
- There is a real absence of cross-Canada organizations, either issue based, or general political ones. Meetings of activists need to happen, to try and take best practices and strategies immediately from one place to another.
- Conversations will need to continue to transform the NDP to be more accountable to movements, and to act like a movement party than an electoral one. There are no easy Sanders or Corbyn identifiable in the federal NDP right now, or in any of the provincial parties. This is a thankless task but someone should do it.
I am sure you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments. Please also read the comments to see what other people are saying.
It might get worse or better, it all depends on what we do.