Q: When is an economic downturn “good news?”
A: When big business can use it as an excuse to reduce democratic participation and buy up public property.
“The Dark Arts,” Severus Snape told his pupil Harry in The Half-Blood Prince, “are many, varied, ever-changing and eternal. Fighting them is like fighting a many-headed monster, which, each time a neck is severed, sprouts a head even fiercer and cleverer than before.”
J. K. Rowling couldn’t have provided a better metaphor for our current political and economic situation here in Ontario.
The fact is that Ontario’s budget could be balanced without drastic measures if our wealthy citizens – who are numerous – would cease pressuring Dalton McGuinty to act as their “no tax hikes” front man. But why support the working public when you can create conditions for unlimited profiteering by starving governments of tax dollars? The strategy has worked wonders for the upper classes in the U.S. at the expense of everyone else – why not try it here?
Our outmoded “first-past-the-post” system of electing members to our parliament and legislatures has contributed greatly to a steady decline in democratic power across Canada. In enabling political parties to gain a majority of seats in our governing houses without a majority of votes, this system ensures that, paradoxically, the minority usually rules the majority.
It's a simple matter for corporations to manipulate the system so that the governments they control have carte blanche to pass legislation in their interests. The corollary is that it is extremely difficult for smaller, grassroots political parties without corporate backing to gain any seats at all, even if they attract hundreds of thousands of votes across the province or the country. And to top it all off, because the majority of citizens are not actually represented in most so-called “majority” governments, public interest in participating in the electoral system at all is continually declining while the acceptance of authoritarianism increases.
It’s no secret that the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Stephen Harper (the son of an Imperial Oil executive) has been little more than a front for the interests of the oil-and-gas industry. The voters who turned out in suburban Ontario ridings to support Harper last year, giving him the unfettered autocratic reign he desired, were placing their bets on the western oil patch as Canada’s best potential economic driver.
But did they consider the continued erosion of democratic process and the disempowering of Parliament that is part and parcel of Harper’s big business agenda, as demonstrated by the “omnibus” bill currently being rushed through Parliament? This article from the Toronto Star Ottawa bureau chief Les Whittington shows Harper’s assault on democracy in no uncertain terms.
The situation at Queen’s Park is only slightly different. Having already enjoyed eight years of autocratic control, McGuinty’s Liberals, now with a minority of seats in the Legislature, have been forced to share decision-making power with Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats. In principle, this means that a majority of Ontario voters are now actually represented in any vote that passes a bill – for the first time since the power-sharing agreements between Bob Rae’s NDP and David Peterson’s Liberals in the mid-1980s.
But the corporate agenda – not to mention the arrogance bred by the two majority terms – doesn’t just fade away. McGuinty’s stated aim is to lure another NDP or PC member away from his or her seat, and/or to win the Waterloo riding recently vacated by Elizabeth Witmer, and regain his authoritarian power.
|NDP leader Andrea Horwath|
Liberal caucus members this week expressed their discontent with the NDP members’ commitment to proper public scrutiny and debate on the Liberal budget bill on which Horwath and McGuinty had earlier struck a deal, as reported here. McGuinty, like Harper, insists that cost-cutting, privatizing, rights-infringing legislation be passed quickly with no debate or changes, using economic uncertainty as a excuse to ignore democratic principles and the law itself. Horwath has responded with her own solution, announced today, as reported by the Globe and Mail.
Meanwhile, Health and Education Ministers Deb Matthews and Laurel Broten continue to treat doctors and teachers with disrespect, to the point of disregarding provincial legislation entirely. Broten has reiterated her desire to further erode democratic control over public schools in the name of saving money by further school board amalgamations – as if the current monstrosities weren’t massive enough. Recent articles in the Star and Peterborough Examiner include wildly inflated estimates of how much money might be saved by such amalgamations – in stark contrast to our own MPP Jeff Leal’s statement that he had “yet to see an amalgamation that actually saved money.”
At Fisher Drive we see the same tactics already evident on Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park. One might think that education, like the law and public health, would be an area too fundamentally important to our society to become a mere forum for power-and-money games. But such is not the case.
KPR trustees and administrators have caught the autocracy bug. It has become evident that their primary function is to implement the corporate agenda at Queen’s Park. This includes both the closing of schools and the directing of public money into corporate coffers by the unnecessary purchase of WiFi technology.
It’s obvious that our current crop of trustees is nowhere near competent enough to oversee KPR and its $377 million budget. Misspending millions of dollars, grossly underestimating expenses (as reported in today's Examiner), prohibiting their constituents from speaking at board meetings, provoking legal action, protests, and petitions in the Legislature – all in a day’s work for KPR trustees.
But even with a brand new crop, we will be left to deal with the corporate agenda at the Ministry of Education, which bizarrely encourages just the kind of behaviour displayed at KPR.
It’s hard to imagine any deviation from the authoritarian trajectory of Ontario’s public education system while political parties firmly in the grip of corporate interests remain in power. And it’s hard to imagine a future where this isn’t the norm until we find a way to relegate our antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system to the dustbin of history and join the rest of the civilized world with some form of proportional representation, specifically tailored to Ontario.
Just a few years ago we had a chance to adopt a mixed-member system similar to the one which has allowed Germany to become the world’s leading economy in terms of sustainability and innovation. Such an evolution would have made it much more difficult for big business to regulate the political agenda – which is why the corporate-owned media helped McGuinty’s Liberals spread disinformation and fear when the possibility arose that a referendum on the electoral reforms might actually pass.
“You are fighting that which is unfixed, mutating, indestructible,” Snape continues in his lecture to Harry. “Your defences must therefore be as flexible and inventive as the Arts you seek to undo.”
As Mad-Eye Moody reminds us, such defence also requires “constant vigilance!” – a lesson Peterborough citizens have learned only too well.