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Lana Payne: Emotion and chaos run amok in Ontario election

Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford speaks to the media after winning the Ontario Provincial election in Toronto, on Friday.
Ontario premier-elect Doug Ford speaks to the media after winning the Ontario Provincial election in Toronto, on Friday. - The Canadian Press

Some say elections are all about emotion.

Anyone who had been paying attention to the Ontario election campaign might argue that there was too much of it. And not the good kind, like hope and optimism, but rather anger and fear and Trump-like campaign rhetoric. Some good ideas were lost as chaos ran amok.

There was also no shortage of scandal, law suits, stolen data, and in some cases blatant lies and promises that just didn’t add up.

But it didn’t seem to matter that Doug Ford’s campaign was mired in scandal and bad math, his supporters, for the most part, were not voting for costed platforms, better health care, or even better education for their kids. The chaos and confusion that followed Ford everywhere seemed to be to them a testament that he was at least different from the others. It perversely reinforced their belief that he was a political outsider.

Like Donald Trump, Ford had captured their anger with the status quo, with politics as usual, with the canned election campaign. He was the anti-candidate.

It is hard for most of us to fathom.

But it’s not most of us that Ford and his team were worried about. Like Stephen Harper, Ford’s campaign was only concerned with motivating their base and keeping them motivated, with emotion and anger — even when many of them don’t have that much to be angry about.

I wrote this column a day before Ontarians voted and polling had the Conservatives and the New Democrats in a virtual tie, with the Liberals a distant third.

But whether Doug Ford won the election or not, there are profound lessons that need to be learned from this election by progressives if we want substance and not just sloganeering to matter in future elections. Let’s start with why so many people feel so alienated from politics that they would vote for Doug Ford?

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The New Democrats ran a campaign of substance, with ideas, a detailed plan and commitments. It was also inclusive and positive.

The Liberals had a plan, too, but suffered from one big problem — they had been in government for too long. Kathleen Wynne had done good work, but none of it mattered in the end. The tides of change were too powerful.

She admitted defeat a week before Election Day and then wrongly put her party over the province and came out swinging against the NDP. Again, this only fed the narrative that politics is about politicians and not people. Ford continued to sloganeer.

The “Stop Ford” train had many prominent Liberals announcing they would vote NDP, anything to keep their province from falling into the kind of chaos and anger-filled politics that have taken root in the United States under Donald Trump.

Polling from EKOS Research is the stuff that keeps campaigns up at night.

While EKOS President Frank Graves admitted the sample, taken late in the election, was small, the results give rise to the theory of “false consciousness” argued by philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Ford’s support according to the sample poll was highest among the poor and the so-called middle class.

The same can be said of the election of Donald Trump, whose policies have been soundly criticized and rejected in recent days by the United Nations who said they reward the rich and punish the poor, worsening already skyrocketing inequality. And yet poor people voted for Trump. Not because they are stupid, but because they had been so alienated by politics as usual and grew tired of waiting for economic policies to help them. Perhaps when you don’t have much, it is tough to see how much worse it can get.

Trump’s plan was always about making himself and his friends richer, and it’s hard to see where Doug Ford’s plan is any different. Indeed, even his tax cuts are designed to help people of his own socio-economic status — wealthy Ontarians.

This fits with what pollsters and Marx like to describe as people voting against their own interests, with their hearts and not their heads.

It’s a very strong message to those — especially progressives — who perhaps have bought into status quo politics.

And it brings more weight to the argument for electoral reform when — over and over again — less than 40 per cent of the voting population can hand over all the political power to one party. This means political parties do not need to appeal to everyone, just the voters they need to win.

How many examples does Canada need before we get a leader with guts enough to change electoral politics, so every vote truly does count towards representation? The first-past-the-post system alienates people and feeds discontent with politics.

It isn’t the only problem, but it’s an important one.

If we want to do something about cynicism in politics and mute populist rhetoric, let’s build a system that shares the power.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.

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