A spectre is haunting Ontario: the threat of three conservatives governing in Ottawa, Queen's Park and Toronto. It wasn't all that long ago that Stephen Harper, at a Rob Ford barbecue, publicly revealed that he had a dream – the dream of Tim Hudak being elected premier to make it a Conservative hat trick for Ontario. Of course rational folk will laugh this off as a paranoid nightmare. Surely Ontarians would never inflict such a dystopia on themselves. But commonsense and reason are hardly players in a game that does not yet rule out Rob Ford's re-election as mayor of Toronto.
There is nothing left to say about Mr. Ford and I won't bore readers trying. But on Messrs. Harper and Hudak, there are some interesting differences worth noting. Before becoming prime minister, Mr. Harper was regularly accused of having a hidden agenda. He soon proved the fear to be only too true. But it wasn't the agenda we expected.
Of course social and economic conservatism have played a significant role in Harperland. Yet in one sense they've really been sideshows. The big hidden agenda was the Harper government's deep contempt for democratic practices and parliamentary institutions. It was the introduction of dishonesty and meanness as routine tools of governance. It was the death of civility in politics. It was the disrespect for and crushing of those who crossed Stephen Harper, even those he himself appointed.
Who expected the brazen attempts to harass human rights activists, intimidate NGOs, disempower women's groups, attack public officials, and muzzle scientists and whistle-blowers, as documented in a powerful new series of You Tube videos just released by Voices-Voix, a coalition of human rights and community groups? Who ever heard of former deputy ministers of justice from across the country collectively speaking out against the PM's recent attack on Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, which they describe as "wholly without merit"?
Who dreamed that Stephen Harper, like his old fishing/political buddy Rob Ford, would bring such international attention to Canada? Just as hundreds of academics from around the world joined to record publicly their grave concerns over the Orwellian-titled Fair Elections Act, so the Prime Minister's dangerous hatchet job on Ms. McLachlin succeeded in attracting the censure of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
So yes, Stephen Harper had a hidden agenda of pretty epic proportions. And here's where Tim Hudak is refreshingly different. His intentions may be mind-boggling but at least they're entirely public. Mr. Hudak is God's gift to the 1 per cent. He makes Mike Harris seem like a mushy liberal. Ontarians can't say they weren't warned.
For decades, corporate North America has been promoting its own version of a capitalist utopia where large businesses pay negligible taxes and endure few regulations, where public services are minimal, and where trade unions fighting for a living wage are effectively sidelined. Down south they made the Republican Party their vehicle. In Ontario, Tim Hudak offered himself: I'm your man. Finally we can be sure a politician won't break his promises. When the man says he'll cut corporate taxes by another 30 per cent and slash 100,000 jobs in the public sector, we can be confident he'll do exactly that.
But in order to believe that these acts will help create a million new jobs and revitalize Ontario's tired economy, it helps if you also believe that Rob Ford is an honest man and a good mayor who reads a chapter of Jane Jacobs each night before bed. For those, on the other hand, who put some time into what we once called "thinking," who privilege such out-of-fashion decision-making techniques as reason, logic and evidence, Mr. Hudak's promises are impossible to take seriously.
Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn neatly notes that "Cutting jobs to create them brings to mind the Vietnam-war aphorism that a Communist-held village must be destroyed in order to save it." His colleague and trained economist Tom Walkom shows that few of Mr. Hudak's figures add up. The Globe and Mail assesses the drastic implications of Mr. Hudak's program for education, health and social services and concludes that the job-cutting pledge not only "looks ill-considered and excessive" but is in fact "radical and rash."
Okay, let's not beat a dead horse. Let's agree that all things being equal, having Hudak rule in Queen's Park while Mr. Harper reigns in Ottawa and Rob Ford does whatever he does to Toronto, may be something less than a swell idea. Now what? How do Ontario voters on June 12 go about ensuring it doesn't happen? Which of the other two parties do they vote for? Do they go for the party of the squishy centre or do they put their faith in the more progressive party? And the really big question: how do they know which of the two is which?