Earlier this month, Ontario went to the polls and elected a new provincial government. The Progressive Conservatives, led by Doug Ford, came out with their second majority government, and many communities and progressive movements are trying to make sense of this outcome and its implications for the future of Ontario.
Doug Ford’s Conservatives entered the election with a horrible track record of putting the corporate agenda before communities. They continued to promote for-profit long-term care despite the humanitarian crisis witnessed in these homes during the pandemic, charged ahead with the proposed highway 413 to profit landowners and Conservative donors along its path, cancelled renewable energy projects, and set the province on a path of rising emissions.
Another four years of Ford’s Conservatives means our provincial government will continue to be at the beck and call of wealthy donors, lobbyists, and their corporate friends. Although their platform was scant on details, it sent a clear message that this government will expand roads and highways, disregarding local communities’ concerns while paving over farmlands, greenspaces, and ecosystems. If the last four years were any indication, Ontarians could expect to see more cuts to education, increased privatization of health care, environmental deregulations, and the continued unravelling of workers’ protections and social support programs.
But progressive movements and organizations, including the Council of Canadians, have seen, fought, and won victories against austerity governments before. Ford eventually put back the $15 minimum wage after fierce advocacy from the movement for a living wage. Communities across Ontario mobilized to loudly call out Christine Elliott’s February 2022 comment hinting at the intention to privatize health care, causing them to walk back that comment.
In the past four years, communities have also come together and learned the strength of their collective power. Countless Stop Sprawl groups are building broad-based coalitions of farmers, environmentalists, housing advocates, and climate activists. They are boldly demanding a different vision for their community that doesn’t destroy local farmland and greenspaces and defies Ford’s growth-at-any-cost agenda. Municipalities are choosing to take bold climate action to safeguard our future in the absence of provincial leadership. Our work with local chapters and community groups has pushed both Conservative and Liberal governments to implement a moratorium on bottled water taking permits and has given host municipalities a say on permits that affect their community. Indigenous and settler communities are standing together to oppose the government-enabled extractive industries from grabbing and destroying the land and the water.
Ontario will need more of that in the coming years. Many communities are looking ahead towards municipal elections, scheduled for October 24, as an opportunity to push local governments to step up their leadership to protect communities, the environment, and our collective future. Our fight for an Ontario that takes care of one another, invests in communities, and fights climate change does not stop at elections. The organizing and community building between elections generates the power we need to win meaningful changes to for every Ontarian’s life.
Voter turnout and electoral reform
Organizing between elections is the most important political tool we have, especially given the historically low voter turnout this election. A record-low 43 per cent of Ontarians went to the polls, which allowed the Conservatives to win a majority, and all the decision-making power that goes with it. Our new provincial government represents less than 18 per cent of eligible voters. More than half of those who cast a ballot voted for the NDP, Liberals, or Greens, but these parties together hold only 40 seats, compared to the Progressive Conservatives’ 83 seats.
Once again, the first-past-the-post electoral system has failed us.
During the election period, many made the effort to encourage strategic voting, where voters relied on polling results to cast their ballot for the party most likely to defeat the Conservatives in their riding. These polls, however, rarely accurately reflected riding-level voter intentions. On top of the frustrating electoral system that did not make every vote count, the fact that none of the opposition parties were able to offer bold, progressive vision that tackles the many compounding crises affecting Ontarians caused many voters to sit this election out.
The time for electoral reform is now. Going into the election, the NDP, Liberals, and Greens all included electoral reform in their platforms, although advocates have raised alarm about the Liberals’ proposed ranked ballot system delivering an even less democratic outcome than the current system. Because it’s unlikely that parties will propose electoral reform that disadvantages them, Fair Vote Canada has been calling for a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform. Ontario, and the rest of Canada, urgently need an electoral system that makes every vote count and that empowers voters, candidates, and political parties to fully participate in the democratic process.
The outcome of the provincial election reveals the growing frustration with governments and their failure to address the major crises affecting people across Ontario – from the pandemic to growing inequality, the housing crisis, and the climate emergency.
But our work never ends at elections. Over the next four years, it is critical to connect with and build power among people disenfranchised by the current political system and most affected by austerity- and corporate-driven policies. Grassroots organizing, like the work done by Council of Canadians chapters, is more important than ever. Building power, growing solidarity, and challenging the corporations that contribute to and benefit from these crises is critical no matter who is in office.