This is going to be a hard fought, down and dirty by-election. That’s what I keep hearing from people. The vicious, attack anything type of politics is precisely the part of politics I dislike. It’s corrosive. It stifles real debate, and turns off potential voters.
Partisanship is a tricky thing – it’s necessary for organizing in the political arena (particularly in our electoral system) and moving towards progress, but it can also turn rational-thinking people into irrational hacks. I say that as someone who is a partisan. As a social democrat the majority of my views line up with Ontario’s and Canada’s social democratic party.
I was thinking recently about my level of partisanship and how far that extends. I’m pleased with the current leadership and so I’m willing to work as part of a team. Conversely, I am entirely displeased with Ontario’s Liberal government.
So I was trying to imagine being a Liberal partisan – what would that be like to feel the need to stick up for this government? What arguments could I conjure up to promote a government that’s been oftentimes negligent, and at other times willing to boldly cross the line with public funds purely out of self-interest? How do you promote that government? More likely, I would stoop to partisan hackery and attack my opponent instead of promoting my own party or candidate. (On a personal level, it’s more likely that I wouldn’t fight for a party or government I didn’t actually believe in, but that’s just me…).
The gas plant
This topic of partisanship has been on my mind lately in light of revelations about the gas plant cancellation/”seat saver” by the Liberals in the last election. To legitimately campaign for this government, one must go beyond the opportunism and negligence of this government and live in a world where self-interest is more important than the public interest.
I’m an idealist, but to live in the real world you need to allow yourself some ability to forgive mistakes and transgressions. I can do so hoping that we can learn from these mistakes and do better. I can’t for the life of me, though, imagine how I could easily forgive this kind of a transgression and remain partisan. I personally have a very strong ability to forgive; but one can only forgive when forgiveness is being sought. Gallingly, there haven’t been apologies or statements of regret – just matter-of-fact statements about how this decision was made.
If you haven’t followed this story, here is the rundown: Liberal government enters into a guaranteed contract to build a gas power plant in Mississauga with private company; residents upset; construction of gas plant begins; election campaign not going well – polls show Liberals may lose 4 seats around power plant, already under construction; Liberal campaign – not government – decide on plant cancellation shortly before election day; Liberals win seats and minority government; construction continues for some time after cancellation announcement; lawsuits filed; government costs of cancellation announced to be at least $190 million dollars; Liberal cabinet ministers admit to this – no apology sought.
It’s a disgusting waste of money. It is money that could have reduced our deficit, or been spent on helping people. It could have reversed the cuts to the badly needed Community Start-up and Maintenance Allowance, or raised desperately low social assistance rates.
What’s worse is that by pulling a move like this, and not paying a consequence for it or even seeking forgiveness, public trust in the political system erodes ever further. The brush of self-interest, incompetence, negligence, paints everyone in the political arena in a poor light. On this topic, Rex Murphy said of the public dealing with this fiasco: “They resign themselves to the sleaziness and corruption of the game. They learn to quietly despise politics. At that point, in a democracy, all are losers.”
These Liberals. Lack of compassion for our poorest, waste of money through sheer negligence, laying out hundreds of millions of public funds to win seats. It’s a very cynical place to be in to fight to reelect this kind of an administration. You would have to convince a public that they shouldn’t even want any better. That’s tough. The next logical step, then, is to chop others down, too.
Liberal Spies and Attacks on Catherine
In this post I’m criticizing the actions of the Liberal government, but I won’t be making anti-Liberal candidate statements. One of the most difficult things in politics is setting aside personal relationships. I know Karen Scian and Eric Davis and I like them both. While I don’t know Raj Sharma, I’m sure he’s a nice person and qualified public servant.
Being a Kitchener resident I don’t know all of the details about Karen’s work on Waterloo Council, but I will say that as a person, I’m a big fan. I think she’s an individual who really cares about her community, she’s friendly and engaging, and really connects with people. The same can be said about Eric – I’ve enjoyed my interactions with him, and believe him to be well intentioned. Simply, they’re good people. I just don’t see how the party they are hoping to run for could amass this kind of a record and be rewarded for it.
With the importance of this by-election and the difficult spot the Liberals are in, I do expect that things could get nasty. I don’t expect this from the candidates – I think all are respectful individuals – but on the sidelines the daggers will be out. The NDP hasn’t even held its nomination meeting and yet there are already people rallying in the background to discredit Catherine.
In her column on Fife, Luisa D’Amato noted that a Liberal spy had slipped her a piece of paper with past quotes from Fife on the Premier. A local poster suggested on a social media site that people follow Fife’s nomination page so that they can “find out when and where Catherine will be i [sic] the coming weeks so that we are able to get the Real Story about who Ms. Fife really is…”
As D’Amato noted, “Fife will be a huge threat to the Liberals in this byelection.” She’s an impressive individual, who many consider the strongest candidate in the race. She’s running for a party with the most popular provincial leader. As such she will have a target on her back throughout the race, and the challenge will be cleaning up the muck as the hackery begins so that voters will be exposed to ideas, records, and individuals instead of spin.
The attacks are very likely to happen. It’s the typical, negative, cynical politics we’re accustomed to. The past provincial election saw all kinds of smears, spin, and trolling on social media to the point that real engagement was stifled. Let’s demand better.
As a candidate for MPP, Catherine has an embarrassment of experience. She’s the sitting chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, where she oversaw the creation of 1,600 child-care spaces in schools, with no additional cost to taxpayers. She was the President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, VP of the Canadian Public School Boards Association, a board member with a number of local organizations such as Reception House, has been awarded for her social activism, and has worked to encourage local women to enter politics.
As a WRDSB trustee since 2003, Catherine has been a leader in our community for many years. She’s confident, competent, and highly professional, and with her commitment to research and informed policy decisions, will be a welcomed addition to an arena that can often be more sizzle than substance. She will make an excellent MPP for K-W.
By virtue of being a decision maker in the community, one is bound to upset people along the way. It’s the nature of public service. It’s not necessarily because a person isn’t listening to the public. The public has many perspectives and competing interests and it’s up to an elected official to make the best decision based on public input and evidence.
So is Catherine Fife “a politician who demonstrated she does not care what voters think and lacks accountability to them”, as James Howe writes, or a Chair who “has steered school trustees through some rough water”, as Luisa D’Amato writes? Voters in Kitchener-Waterloo will have an opportunity to decide, but I do hope that this debate will be about facts and not spin.
It will surely be an interesting campaign. Many say that the riding was a Liz Witmer riding, Liz being a red Tory as opposed to the hard-right, union-busting, right-to-work, chain-gang promoting Ontario PC Party under Tim Hudak. The Liberals will be choosing between three very good candidates, but with this gas plant fiasco (not to mention Ornge, eHealth, etc.) and the Liberals hanging low in the polls, it will be a struggle for them to win this. The NDP, with the most popular provincial leader in Andrea Horwath, success in negotiating a fairer budget this year, and an excellent candidate in Catherine Fife, can legitimately win this.
It’ll be a very interesting by-election indeed. But please – let’s keep it civil, and have a mature campaign about ideas.