Andray Domise is a freelance writer based in Toronto.
Less than twenty minutes after the polls closed on Thursday, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario was projected by news outlets to have won a majority government, under the leadership of Premier-elect Doug Ford. While the audience in the PCPO headquarters erupted into cheers, the crowd at the Liberal Party’s election night headquarters fell briefly into silence. There were moments of applause when Kathleen Wynne and Michael Coteau appeared poised to win their re-election bids. But it was clear that while some candidates may have made it out of the election intact, the soul of the party had not. Ford country had spread from the wilds of Etobicoke to blanket the province, and the Liberals (as well as the minority-status NDP) are not likely to pose a serious challenge without radically re-aligning their priorities.
For that matter, neither will voters. Although 58 per cent of us showed up to the polls (the highest turnout since 1999 – which secured a victory for the Mike Harris-led PC party), two out of five of us did not. And there are consequences for that.
A few years ago, while the Ontario government was attempting to navigate the fraught debate on carding, then-Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Yasir Naqvi attended a public consultation at the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street. It was a rather raucous affair; community members lined up to offer testimonials and anecdotes about their experiences with racial profiling, as well as to castigate Toronto Police chief Mark Saunders for the shooting of Andrew Loku. Throughout the event, Mr. Naqvi listened stolidly, and even nodded when the rhetoric of the speakers took a fiery turn. Though the Liberal resolution for carding drew heavy criticism for failing to go far enough, Mr. Naqvi and the party at least showed an eagerness to listen.
Those days appear to be over. Doug Ford’s approach to the matter of constituent concerns has consistently stood in contrast to the accepted wisdom that the best politicians are the best listeners. Take, for example, the community meeting Mr. Ford attended this past May at Kipling Collegiate Institute, near his Etobicoke North riding. The purpose of the event was to address gun violence, which had plagued the neighbourhood for decades. Mr. Ford opened to a warm enough crowd by addressing longtime concerns, especially the pervasive feeling that the suits at Queen’s Park were completely out of touch with the dire happenings in the community.
But the crowd quickly turned against him when he suggested reinstating the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (better known as TAVIS). As Mr. Ford attempted to muscle his way through the remainder of his speech, the crowd erupted in jeers and activist Walied Khogali spoke up to remind Mr. Ford that many youth in the community had been traumatized by TAVIS’ heavy-handed tactics and alleged racial profiling. In the end, it hardly mattered. Mr. Ford had arrived at the meeting to speak; he didn’t appear to be interested in listening.
This is, for marginalized groups across Ontario, a familiar experience with the Progressive Conservative party. When Mike Harris won the premier’s seat in 1995, he immediately set about dismantling the anti-racism secretariat established by the previous NDP government, repealed the Employment Equity Act and later stood behind the Ontario Provincial Police when Ojibway protester Dudley George was killed by a police sniper at Ipperwash Provincial Park. Mr. Harris had no intention of listening, because quite frankly, he had no incentive to do so.
Mr. Ford has not spoken of any intentions for the Anti-Racism Directorate (which was established and managed under the stewardship of Liberal MPP Michael Coteau), or discussed how his “law and order” approach may conflict with changes to the Ontario Police Services Act that banned carding. But nothing in this election campaign, nor his tenure at Toronto City Hall, has indicated a willingness to listen to marginalized communities or to apply their concerns to socially equitable policy.
While the New Democrats promised during the campaign to build on their predecessors’ work, as well as address racial disparities in policing, incarceration and youth in the care of Children’s Aid, the reality is that the Progressive Conservatives hold a commanding majority. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals have the capability to stand up to them in the event of a repeat of the Harris years. And that means, barring an unexpected softening of Doug Ford’s typically bull-headed approach to dealing with such fraught and nuanced issues, the next four years are not likely to be pleasant.
Two out of every five of us helped guarantee that outcome.
The Liberal Party, cast into the wilderness, has plenty of soul-searching to do before it can once again mount a serious challenge. The NDP, despite being uniquely poised to capture and energize young voters, was unable to overcome a party led by a widely reviled candidate. Which leaves marginalized communities to fend for themselves at a time where the populist right controls 100 per cent of of the legislative agenda and was granted that control by less than 25 per cent of eligible voters.
The next time around, we need to show up. Because if there is anything to be taken away from this election, it’s this: There is no help coming. For now, all we have is each other.