Doug Ford and the Ontario Progressive Conservative party will return to Queen’s Park with another majority government, adding seven seats to their total.
Voter turnout hit an all-time low, with an estimated 43.5 per cent of the electorate participating. Ford tightened his grip on the province with the support of just 17.7 per cent of potential voters.
Despite low support and softened rhetoric from Ford, organizers and journalists expect some big fights in the coming four years. They point to gutted environmental regulations, suppression of health care workers’ wages, privatization, cuts to education, political power grabs, attacks on migrant workers and Indigenous nations as sign of what is to come in four more years of the Conservative rule.
While opposition parties failed to inspire voters, the communities and movements who will face attacks are already building alliances, instead of waiting for Ford and his corporate allies to bring the fight to them.
On election night, The Breach spoke with some of these organizers.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity. Watch our full election night coverage here.
Nigel Barriffe, Urban Alliance on Race Relations
It is so disappointing that the NDP was not able to harness the anger over the past four years. I think there were many grassroots movements that [the NDP’s] arms should have been wrapped around. Labour has to have its own reckoning in this also; why aren’t they supporting grassroots movements? With the housing crisis and city park encampment evictions—as working class people, we should have been in the parks saying, “hey, these people need a place to live.”
There were many moments through the last four years where the movements and the political infrastructure—the opposition party—and labour should have come together. As we move forward and look at how we’re going to resist the onslaught of austerity that’s coming at us, we have to do a better job of having an intersectional approach, of bringing together all of our movements: the environmental movement, education, housing, health care. We have to come together and build our power together to fight against this next government.
We’re going to see Doug Ford’s Bay Street buddies line their pockets with more and more of our public funds. School teachers and education workers will be ready for this fight, and we’re going to stand shoulder to shoulder with community and all the other organizations to fight against this government.
David Bush, Contributor with Spring Magazine
I think there is a difference between when a right wing government wins and they’re promising to do terrible things, versus when they win based on “being good to workers.” It doesn’t mean that they not going to be terrible, but is a lot harder for them to pave the way to do terrible things. It doesn’t mean that workers aren’t going to face attacks, it just means it makes it much easier to build coalitions to resist those attacks.
But people on the left in Ontario need to be real: the pandemic did have an impact on the left, it did have an impact on people who are campaigning, what I call the fighting left—people who are actively out there, organizing, fighting on issues, building networks, and trying to build the confidence and capacity of the class to advance issues that we all care about. And that the pandemic, in many ways, made those networks much smaller.
I would say a lot of people have a lot of rust about doing active political campaigning. And the left, I think, is a lot smaller than people wish it was in Ontario. I think the way in which we’re going to stop Ford’s agenda and take on the big business lobby, is to be able to reforge those networks—is to actually build a left that is campaigning on issues, that is winning popular support for those issues.
It’s not just a matter of the NDP, or a political party, saying radical things. Our job, on the fighting left, is to get in there and to keep building our networks—like where we live, where we work—and expand them across the province in every nook and cranny, and build people’s confidence and capacity to fight back, to be organizers. I think that that’s our task.
We need to keep building each other up and find new people to organize. Don’t be insular; I think that is a key lesson on the left. Let’s not talk to ourselves. Let’s go out there. Let’s talk to other workers. Let’s find new people, build their confidence and capacity and get people talking, leading with issues, and get people involved through action. And in that way, I think that we will be able to forge the kinds of networks of people who are willing to make this province better.
Erica Ifill, Economist and Journalist
I think the whole political class decided that the pandemic was over and they’re going to turn the page, and then the media followed suit. What I don’t understand is, if you are the NDP and the Liberals, why are you not talking about the pandemic at every turn? Why are you not reminding people that Doug Ford took federal money, sat on it, and only used it to pay down the deficit, therefore sacrificing the lives of your loved ones? It’s not that hard. Every second day they should be hammering that home—and they haven’t been. I just feel like they’ve lost the plot.
The problem with not talking about the pandemic is that we’re not talking about our public services. And this election really should have been about our public services going forward. We saw how hollowed out they were during the pandemic; it wasn’t only hospitals, it was schools. And if you look at Doug Ford’s budget, it doesn’t talk about repealing the suppression of nurses’ wages. It talks about schools and hospitals only in the context of infrastructure, which also tells me that he has a big construction contingent in his base.
I just think there’s so many missed opportunities in this entire election. And I’m actually kind of disgusted with the way it’s gone on because these are so important. These decisions will build the trajectory of public services for decades to come.
Syed Hussan, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change
In 2018, Doug Ford said, “I’m going to take care of our own first.” And I think his first four years have shown that he’s very happy to use racist divisiveness as a way to pit migrant and immigrant communities against other foreign working class communities.
On the other end, just a few months ago he said that we only want hardworking immigrants to come here, not those people who are on the dole, which again is about the fact that they have been chopping welfare, they’ve been chopping the Ontario Disability Support Program. But the message that’s coming out is that it’s actually immigrants and migrants who are taking advantage.
This strategy has been to distract people away from who’s really responsible—which is government and the corporate interests that they serve—and instead try to get people to turn on each other. So the entire four years has been about damaging working class people’s ability to protect themselves, to feed their families, and to take care of themselves.
We can see that there are fights coming up: long term care, environmental issues, the ring of fire, further attacks on working conditions. I think we are not very ready. I think our fight back has to move quickly to build some power, identifying key sites of struggle where campaigns can be made to defend communities. That is going to require a level of coordination between various sections of the labour movement—including non-unionized workers—but also environmental movements, movements against police violence.
I hope that it will happen, but I think it’s important to note that after the 2018 election, it took time for the fightback to really get ready. The institutional capacity has been lost and has to be regained.
Linda McQuaig, Journalist
The fact that Doug Ford is going to have four more years is just devastating. I mean, we saw what happened under Mike Harris—the whole Walkerton tragedy with cutbacks and regulations so that there was improper water monitoring in the province. This is exactly what they’re going to see again.
Doug Ford was in deep, deep trouble in the first year or two of his administration. And I think the main reason he was unpopular was he was cutting back education, and people really didn’t like that. He appeared at that Raptors celebration at city hall with a million people, and he was booed.
But then he was saved by the pandemic. For some reason, people thought he was better than Jason Kenney, I guess. But somehow that revived him. The whole issue of cuts to education, cuts to health, has, oddly, disappeared. But it’s going to ramp up now that he has another majority. There’s a huge, huge backlog of surgeries, for instance, because of the pandemic, and their plan is to expand these medical clinics and turn them into essentially private hospitals that can do surgeries.
The government will pay for the private operators to provide those services, but it still comes out of the public health care dollars. It just costs us more. And then this nursing home thing—we’ve obviously learned nothing from that. He’s going ahead full steam with nursing home privatization. I’m very disturbed where we are right now.
Lana Goldberg, Environmental Justice Activist
The government took an axe to existing climate legislation and the protection of nature. It weakened the greenhouse gas emissions target for the province. It scrapped Ontario’s cap and trade system, which was supposed to incentivize companies to decrease their emissions. It fought against the federal carbon price for industry and lost, and then developed its own much weaker carbon pricing model. It ripped up 750 renewable energy projects, including wind and solar projects that were already under construction.
Instead of investing in renewable energy, the government increased the use of gas plants to generate electricity for the province, which is leading to increased emissions. And it defunded all sorts of retrofit programs and efficiency programs that would have helped bring down emissions and buildings.
In recent months, we’ve heard about electric vehicle production. But early in its term, the government actually scrapped EV buyer incentives as well as incentives for homeowners to install charging stations, and it even ripped out public charging stations that were already in use.
We’ve also seen a lot of axing of nature protection. The Endangered Species Act has been decimated to allow developers to pay a fee instead of protecting the habitats of endangered species, and making it easier to bypass endangered species laws.
Ontario has also undermined the power of conservation authorities and the Planning Act, threatening wetlands with development and encouraging sprawl instead of density and affordable housing.
Clearly, it’s not in the interest of people, of the climate, of nature, of communities. It’s quite evident that the policies in place are meant to make it easier for developers, and for big industry and for big corporations, to make a profit.
Riley Yesno, Writer & Researcher
What is most upsetting about Doug Ford’s approach is that he is not an outlier when it comes to the Ring of Fire. Every single party has promised to mine in the Ring of Fire. The only difference is that they have stressed a little bit more that ‘this is going to be very important about relationships, and it’s going to be benefit sharing.’ But the end is the same. Everybody wants to get a bulldozer in the north. And I think that those election promises come at the cost of a very real threat to First Nations.
The last four years have been really tough for Indigenous communities. One of the things I remember Doug Ford did when he got into office was scrap the Indigenous education curriculum, and then the Indigenous Culture Fund. He also amalgamated Indigenous Relations with Natural Resources, making it abundantly clear where he sees Indigenous peoples as valuable and where he does not.
It’s a hard-looking four years ahead of us. But I also think it will be essential to hold on to the really great solidarity from folks filling those gaps that the Ford government has ripped open. In the past four years I have been to about 17 different school boards in Ontario with teachers who have said, “we’re not getting any provincial help for this now, but I’m spending my own time—sometimes my own money—to bring in Indigenous people to speak to students,” for example. That’s a way people are bridging those gaps on the ground.
We now have some basis for organizing, so I hope that’s something that we remember, as demoralizing as another Ford government will be.
Miles Krauter, organizer and campaigner
When it comes to the NDP, I think it’s time that we start investing in people and communities in the membership. We can’t continue to treat members of our party like ATMs, and like people who show up once every few years to run election campaigns. We need to actually build a democratic environment where people feel there’s a point to being engaged, where meetings locally actually are towards an end other than to elect the NDP. That’s exactly the model we’ve been trying to make work here in Ottawa, and which you see in the re-election of Joel Harden.
We also have to start treating voters as more than just subjects of marketing science or a focus group. Let’s start talking to them honestly and earnestly about what matters in their lives. And let’s start inviting them to participate. And as soon as we have a party like that, there’s a meaningful reason to get involved with us.
I think it’s hard for us to make that ask right now. Hopefully, the NDP is going to change in such a way that it becomes meaningful to get involved. We’re not just demanding more from politics, we’re demanding more from each other, too. And that means people need to actually get involved if we’re going to shift politics in this province.
I’d like to see somebody lead the NDP that’s not interested in the cult of leadership—which I think we’ve seen, not just in the NDP but in all parties. It’s a common phenomenon. There’s a lot of emphasis on, “oh, isn’t it exciting that the leader said this or the leader went here?”
Our first slogan in 2018 was, “It’s about us,” and it’s about building the strength of us. Joel often says this as well: “There’s a difference between winning an election and winning power.” Those are not the same thing. Even if you win an election on some sort of clever communications campaign, what are you actually going to do with it? What are you going to do in power if you don’t have an organized community to back you up?