The provincial election continues and I’m increasingly amazed that anyone is going to vote Conservative. A friend of mine the other day shared a link from the Youth and Work blog which pointed out that Hudak’s proposed job cuts would fall disproportionately heavily on younger workers because of the nature of collective agreements, and on mothers who take maternity leave since, according to MPP Lisa MacLeod, they would subject to “attrition” which would help “look after” the layoff problem.
I had to read that twice. And watch the attached video. Because it sounds like a Tory MPP just told a journalist that, if elected, a Hudak government would be laying off young mothers who go on maternity leave.
And on numerous re-readings, that’s still what it sounded like.
I’m going to be charitable and say that MacLeod might have miscommunicated her government’s position, or that her quote was taken out of context. It’s literally impossible to believe that a government — any government — would take the callous, insensitive and quite possibly illegal measure of laying off women for getting pregnant. And even if they were serious about it, they sure as hell wouldn’t commit to doing so during an election.
On the surface, the problem here is a Tory MPP saying something that she shouldn’t have. It happens. If you’re a party insider you don’t want it to happen during an election, but it happens. It’s probably put a ding in the Tory poll numbers for youth and women, but since very few young women vote Tory, I don’t see it having an enormous impact on how the election turns out. Not on its own, anyway. But MacLeod’s gaffe is part of a larger, much more serious problem for the Tories — Tim Hudak’s disastrous announcement that his government, if elected, would promptly put 100,000 public-sector employees out of work. I blogged about it when he made the announcement, and two weeks later it’s still all anybody’s talking about in this election.
And they’re not saying nice things.
The Ontario Federation of Labour has released a city-by-city breakdown of Tim Hudak’s 100,000 job cuts, and the numbers are brutal. Peterborough, where I live, will be the hardest hit — 2057 provincial and public sector workers will be put out of work, raising the unemployment rate in this area by 3.2% to a total unemployment rate of 14.8%.
14.8 percent unemployment in a city of 78,000 people. That is a savage, appalling number. It’s bad enough living in a town with the nation’s highest unemployment rate in the first place (as of April 2014 it was at 11.6%) and now Tim Hudak is proposing to spike it to almost three times the national average. That is a death sentence for this city. It’s why phrases like “rust belt” and “ghost town” exist in our vocabulary.
This is why voting matters. I have friends, and some of them are young and unemployed, who don’t vote. I even know one or two who vote Conservative because they like the local Conservative candidate. But coldly, objectively, you have to look at those numbers and know that a Conservative government would be a disaster where we live right now. This isn’t some theory, or something happening to people far away — this is real, immediate, and it will happen to our community, to our neighbours. It will mean fewer incomes, more poverty, more crime. There is nothing about Tim Hudak’s plan which benefits the city of Peterborough in any meaningful way.
It increasingly looks like I’m going to be voting Liberal in this election, because the local NDP candidate has no chance of taking the seat and I don’t want to split the centre-left vote to the benefit of the local Tory candidate. I’m not happy about it — I’m never happy when the odious notion of “strategic voting” rears its ugly head — but I’m prepared to swallow my gorge and do what’s necessary.
The sting is somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the Liberal budget — they haven’t actually released their electoral platform yet despite being less than three weeks from election day — has been described as Piketty-esque. This is of course a reference to the blockbuster economic analysis tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century (and yes, I just wrote blockbuster economic analysis tome with a straight face) which I tried to read and stalled out halfway through Chapter Six. Thomas Piketty’s book is the distilled essence of TL;DR (it’s incredibly dry reading) but he postulates the radical notion that perhaps concentrating greater and greater amounts of wealth in an increasingly smaller number of hands is not the best way to guarantee the long-term stability and sustainability of the global economy.
And now some pundits are describing Kathleen Wynne as “The Piketty Premier?” Count me in: the merest suggestion that someone in government is attempting to address income inequality — or is at least trying to keep it from getting worse — is enough to snag my attention.
I’ve had several online run-ins with a couple of vehemently pro-Tory voters this election, and they are seem to be saying the same thing: We need to reduce the deficit! And you know what? I don’t actually disagree with that notion. Deficit spending is very bad for the long-term economic health of the province. Wynne’s budget is premised on a tax increase for the highest earners and a raise in the minimum wage… and it matches the Hudak’s proposed deficit reductions, but its long-term targets seem to be set a year later than their Tory counterparts.
I don’t know about everybody else, but this voter isn’t willing to throw the some of our most vulnerable citizens under the bus for the sake of meeting a deficit reduction goal twelve months earlier than the Liberal party’s projections.
Of course, it’s more than just that twelve-month difference — the entire structure of how they get to that point is different. Hudak’s plan, as I mentioned above, will devastate communities, especially smaller cities outside the GTA; it’s Mike Harris’ Common-Sense Revolution all over again. There’s no money for public-sector salaries or social programs… but there’s lots of money for tax breaks for the rich and subsidies for corporations. That little fact is something that the Tories have been glossing over with their promises of private-sector job creation; the logic being that if corporations see a short-term advantage to doing business in Ontario, they’ll hire more people.
Well.. maybe. If you count corporate profit margins as a measure of success. If you think subsidized companies can be trusted not to pull up stakes when they get a better offer down the road. If you view the bottom line of a ledger at Queen’s Park as being the ultimate arbiter of What’s Good for Ontario.
Personally, I don’t.
Wynne’s plan won’t increase corporate profit margins over the short term, although I’ve always thought that the best measure of economic success isn’t somebody’s balance sheet, but whether or not average people have comfortable, prosperous lives. And I don’t know if that’s going to be the yardstick we’re using: Her plan, if successful, will merely accomplish the same modest deficit reductions as the Tories while being a lot less brutal to the young and the poor.
If successful. Ay, there’s the rub. There is no guarantee that her budget’s going to work; it’s entirely possible that increased taxes on the wealthy and a reduction in corporate welfare might have a cooling effect on the provincial economy. Corporations, sensing that the trough isn’t as full as it once was, might just wander off. And that’s assuming that she follows through, because the biggest millstone she’s dragging into this election is the bone-deep knowledge among the electorate that failing to fulfil election promises is an Ontario Liberal Party tradition.
Which is where the character of the party leader comes rather sharply into focus. Tim Hudak, I have no doubt, will carry out his announced plans. Like his predecessor and ideological mentor Mike Harris, he will tell you exactly how he’s planning on fucking you and then proceed to do it. Period. Kathleen Wynne… I am less certain. It’s entirely possible that she’s selling us pie in the sky. Her immediate predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, certainly adopted that approach, so much so that a major (if quiet) part of Wynne’s campaign has been distancing herself from McGuinty and all his works. She’s staked her political future on reinventing the Liberal brand.
What it boils down to is a choice. A choice between definitely hurting working people under the Tories, or maybe not helping them fast enough even if the Liberals have changed their spots.
It’s hardly an ideal situation… but when I look at it like that, it certainly simplifies where I’m going to cast my ballot.