Young Tim Hudak, the leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, probably commands much more press coverage than he deserves. He certainly has been the object of more than one of my own blog posts, in part because of the fascinating window he opens into the mind of that segment of the electorate which believes his retrograde polices have merit. Indeed, it is never wise to underestimate people's capacity to buy into disproven bromides as they indulge in that peculiar form of magical thinking that suggests taxes can be cut, jobs created, and society advanced through no personal pain or sacrifice.
Recently, The Star's Bob Hepburn wrote a piece entitled Is Tim Hudak on the far-right road to victory? In it, he made the following observation about the far-right agenda Hudak is embracing:
His simple message: slash taxes, cut public service jobs, crack down on welfare recipients, beat up on labour unions, privatize government agencies, get tough on crime and create thousands of new jobs.
Hudak calls his proposals “bold, transformative ideas to fire up job creation and balance the books.”
Sound familiar? Indeed, Hudak is now fully embracing the controversial 1994 policies of Mike Harris, his old boss.
By doing so, though, he is gambling his entire political future on his belief that the Harris era is now just a faded memory for many Ontario voters and that the time is once again perfect to champion far-right policies.
The lead letter in today's Star suggests that Hudak's hopes for collective amnesia about the Harris era's depradations may be misplaced, as Steve McCahon of Toronto writes:
Bob Hepburn’s column was both well-reasoned, and insightful. However, several other points should be considered when analyzing the Progressive Conservative Party’s far-right shift in Ontario and the next provincial election.
The success of Ford Nation in Toronto, and the “breakthrough” of the federal Conservative party in the Greater Toronto Area, which gave Stephen Harper a majority government, should serve to concern political parties with more moderate, middle to left-leaning perspectives.
The “Red” Tory party led by Premier William Davis no longer exists. Michael Harris helped to redefine the party in the 1990s. The Common Sense Revolution was neither common sensie, nor revolutionary. It featured slash and burn politics. It took a funding of school boards out of the hands of local municipalities through the property tax-mill rate system.
The government saddled municipalities with funding of general welfare, ambulance services and subsidized housing. It introduced education policy that gutted arts funding, library and guidance functions in the local schools, and a system that has led to the closure of hundreds of local schools over the past 15 years.
I mention these specific changes brought about by Harris with regard to the effect upon the poor and middle class as a cautionary note. The Great Blue Wave that swept over Ontario in the 1990s threatens to re-emerge.
Mr. Hepburn’s comparison to the recent American election is appropriate; however, it fails to take into consideration how Ontarians have tended to vote in response to more recent provincial electoral campaigns.
Premier David Peterson’s snap election resulted in “political suicide.” The electorate punished the perceived arrogance of the Liberal party. During Premier Dalton McGuinty’s second election campaign, which led to a majority government, it was the issue of extending public funding to faith-based schools that destroyed John Tory’s campaign.
The next provincial election is likely to be fought on the basis of a single lightning-rod issue rather than on a broad policy platform. Ontarians are not likely to forget the vilification of “beer drinking single moms on welfare,” and huge slashes to the public service: primarily in the areas of the amalgamation of Toronto and health care leading to the reduction of 6,000 nurses and 11,000 hospital beds.
Premier Mike Harris came to power with the promise of fiscal responsibility and left as an ideologue who was out of touch with Ontarians. Similarly, is Tim Hudak the leader of the Tea Party of Ontario, the promoter of the Common Sense Revolution Part Deux, or Stephen Harper’s lapdog?
One can only speculate as to the “issue” that will dominate the next provincial election. Mr. Hudak has been touting his law and order agenda, while, he is promoting liberalization of the distribution of alcohol in Ontario. Teen smoking, drinking and driving, and gas station attendant violence are all serious criminal and societal matters.
Privatizing the LCBO and introducing the distribution of wine, beer, and/or alcohol at local convenience stores with the potential of “liquor store” holdups and further under-age drinking may very well be one issue that is worthy of focus.
Ontario does not require a hard-right political shift to create jobs, manage its fiscal house, reduce crime, and create better government. Ontarians should reject Tea Party politics, and its inherent divisiveness, despite the pretty packaging and bow in which Tim Hudak wraps it.
One can only hope that Steve McCahon's timely reminder finds purchase amongst the Ontario electorate.