ONTARIO VOTERS ARE HARDLY THRILLED BY THEIR CHOICES IN TOMORROW’S PROVINCIAL ELECTION AND WE’RE EXPECTING ANOTHER RECORD LOW TURNOUT AT THE POLLS.  BUT INSTEAD OF QUITTING ON DEMOCRACY, HERE’S ANOTHER ALTERNATIVE

So here we are, the home stretch of Ontario’s latest election campaign, and right on cue the major media outlets have begun their customary endorsements of candidates, defending their selections in the editorial pages and offering reasons why you should vote for them. The words “hold your nose and vote for” have been busier then a mall Santa on Christmas Eve and given that tomorrow’s voter turnout is expected to be on the wrong side of a record low, just about anything could happen. Tim Hudak’s Conservatives could replace the governing Liberals with a majority or Kathleen Wynne could well return to office with a minority government (meaning we’ll be in this exact same spot in another two years or less). Voter turnout in 2011’s Ontario election was an anemic 49.2%- breaking the previous record low of 52.8% set in 2007-and this year’s turnout is expected to preserve the trend of declining voter participation.

And who can blame Ontario voters? This is perhaps the most underwhelming provincial campaign in recent memory and I’ve both spoken to and heard a lot of voters who are ready to throw their arms up in exasperated defeat, ones who can’t bing themselves to vote for the detested and despised “other party” but have completely lost both faith and confidence in their regular party of choice. If Elections Ontario allowed pollsters to list “none of the above” as a polling option, you could bet that the Big Three Party leaders would all be trailing the Invisible Man by a country mile.   I would never presume to tell someone how to vote (and I don’t believe any media organization should either) and as a political independent, I can’t sympathize as much with voters who have spent the majority of their lives voting one way but now face voting another out of disgust and disillusionment. But I do have some advice that I’d like to share after a quick recap of why we find ourselves in this situation.

Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals are dragging more baggage in this election than Jacob Marley in a Christmas Carol. Everything from Dalton McGuinty’s litany of broken promises on taxes (“I will not raise your taxes,” “Ok, this time I’m serious, I won’t raise your taxes,” “OK, I can’t say it again with a straight face, but look, I keep getting elected so whose really to blame here?”) to a non-stop parade of scandals, from eHealth to the Ornge Helicopters fiasco to the current gas plant nonsense. I’ve argued that the reason McGuinty was re-elected twice since he started lying to Ontario voters in 2003 was that he faced weak competition who giftwrapped the subsequent elections for him (whether it was John Tory inadvertently galvanizing Ontario’s Islamaphobia against the Conservatives with his multi-faith schools in 2007 or Tim Hudak’s 2011 economic platform that was so bland that even the staunchly conservative Sun Media refused to endorse him). And while Wynne has been able to deflect some of that pressure by pointing out she wasn’t in charge when Dalton was doing his best impersonation of Pinnochio, she was still pretty high up on the food chain for some of it. In the eight years McGuinty was Premier, the Liberals doubled Ontario’s debt and saying that the Provincial Liberals have a spending problem is like saying that Rob Ford only likes seconds once in a while. Wynne promises to balance the budget by 2018, but the simple fact is that the Liberals never passed a balanced budget under McGuinty (even before the Great Recession of 2008) and they have zero economic credibility as a result of their overspending and fast and loose approach to campaign promises.

And that sound you heard during the opening days of the campaign? That was the sound of any Public Sector employee in Ontario who was even remotely considering voting for Conservative leader Tim Hudak changing their mind at warp speed. Hudak came out of the Blue corner swinging, offering an economic platform of severe job cuts and austerity measures to cure Ontario’s addictions to deficits and combat it’s enormous debt. Hudak’s formula (and platform) is pretty straight forward-the money Ontario would save by cutting 100,000 public sector jobs over the next two years (some through attrition, though no one knows how many) would cover a proposed 30% cut in the corporate tax rate, and that tax break combined with other deregulations would allow a slumbering private sector to awaken like a hungry, angry bear, creating a million private jobs over the next eight years. But Conservatives are usually the first ones to tell you that governments can’t guarantee job growth in the private sector, and one only has to look at our neighbours to the south to see that even when they have money, it isn’t unusual for companies to stubbornly refuse investing in a larger workforce (American corporations are enjoying record profits despite the lingering effects of the 2008 collapse, yet employment levels remain largely stagnant). And you can ask our friends in Europe how deep austerity cuts usually only result in swollen unemployment and stressed social safety nets. Ontario is already one of the most hospitable places for corporations in North America and big companies are the last people who need a tax cut, let alone a 30% one. The truth of the matter is that corporations hate spending on labour (and would scrap the minimum wage in a heartbeat if they could) and the Conservatives haven’t offered any backup plans if some corporations decided to simply pocket the tax savings. And while Hudak pledged not to include doctors or police officers in his cuts, he almost eagerly admitted that teachers would find themselves in his pink slip crosshairs (what is it with Conservatives and teachers?). Just to put his proposed cuts into perspective, the number of jobs Hudak could lay his hands on is about 650,000, so his cuts would result in a sudden reduction of over 15% of the public sector (which would wreak incredible havoc on the services affected), and between 1.5 and 2% of the province’s entire workforce. While the PS is admittedly more swollen then Justin Bieber’s ego, the idea of putting a tens of thousands of people out of work over the next two years doesn’t sound like it’s merely throwing a monkey wrench into a fragile consumer economy so much as it’s dropping an anvil laced with nitro glycerin on top of it. The math Hudak used to formulate his platform (which has been endorsed by a very, very far-right, anti-union American economist) has already been questioned by a number of experts and he’s already found himself on the defensive over reductions to local spending, primarily Phase 2 of Ottawa’s LRT (part of his plan includes reduced funding to municipalities). It’s no surprise that labour unions began mobilizing against Hudak as soon as the writ hit the fan and this is the first time I’ve seen advertising that doesn’t endorse any one particular candidate or party, but rather implores you to vote against one, in this case Hudak’s Conservatives (the City of Ottawa recently ordered that particular advertising removed). Hudak’s cuts have been described as more draconian then former Ontario Premier Mike Harris’, whose reign was filled with more strikes then a Major League baseball game, and he’s been described as a meaner sequel to Harris himself.

And what to say about Andrea Horwath and the NDP? She’s easily the biggest riddle among the three. Already burdened by criticism for failing to capitalize on the Orange Wave that lead the Federal NDP to record success in the last national election, Horwath decided to trigger all this despite low poll numbers and an empty warchest. Labour unions, the NDP’s main source of support, actually implored her to back the Liberal budget last month. Instead she voted against Wynne’s Liberal government, triggering an election that could see a very union unfriendly Conservative party take provincial power. The NDP platform is little more then a collection of vague offerings beyond raising the minimum wage by an extra dollar over the next two years while giving tax breaks to small and medium sized businesses . You may not like the Liberal or Conservative platforms, but at least they have one. I still can’t make head or tails of the NDP’s pledges. And wouldn’t it stand to reason that if you were the party propping up a government, that you would use that position to your advantage by trading support for concessions that align with your agenda rather then triggering an election when your support is low and your cash even lower? What does Horvath tell the NDP faithful if they wind up with fewer seats and less influence this Friday as a direct result of her decision?

So it’s easy to see why so many voters are willing to throw in the towel. It looks as if plenty are planning on spoiling their ballots or staying home altogether. This truly is a case of choosing the least evil. So my advice? Forget the talking heads. Ignore the party leaders. Not one of them has earned your respect or admiration. Instead, use the remaining time to check out what your riding’s candidates have had to say. And don’t let yourself get blinded by the party mantras that so many like to retreat behind. We all know what Kathleen Wynne plans on doing for the province, but what about Ottawa? What about your riding? Would a Conservative government pledge funding to prevent millions of litres of raw sewage from flooding into the Ottawa River every time it rains? And look beyond the rhetoric. After all, the Liberals have promised for years to help clean up Ottawa’s river yet haven’t delivered. It may well be time to abandon the Big Three altogether. Don’t ignore independent or non-mainstream candidates. Worse things could happen then electing either the Conservatives or Liberals to a minority government and allowing a handful of independents to hold the decisive balance of power. After all, what sort of message would it send to the Three Party Leaders if a sizeable chunk of Ontario voters rejected them and their party lines? This is the only time politicians truly listen or care to what the electorate has to say, so instead of staying home or spoiling your ballot, use your vote to send a message. People constantly complain that the system is broken, that it’s stacked against the “little guy,” and those arguments have plenty of merits, but every once in a while we have a chance to shout at the bureaucrats who like to talk over our heads. Every once in a while they need us, and here in Ontario, tomorrow is that time. So vote. And make it count.

Shayne Kempton

 

ONTARIO’S THREE STOOGES

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I’VE FINALLY BECOME SMART ENOUGH TO REALIZE WHAT MAKES  A TRUE HERO, AND ON FATHER’S DAY, I KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR THE GREATEST ONE I KNOW

     My father has a story he likes to tell whenever he’s asked why he refused to hold me when I was a baby.  It happened one at a county fair when I was only a few months old.  If I remember correctly, we were at the Ancaster fair (or the Lincoln one, I think the version changes on who he tells it to), and he was holding me in front of him when I decided I wanted to try a little skydiving and planted my itty bitty baby feet on his chest and pushed with all my newborn might, launching myself out of his hands like a missile in a diaper.  Fortunately he caught me a sliver of a second before the ground broke my erstwhile fall, and from that day forward, he decided to play it safe and held me as little as possible.

I think about that story every Fathers Day.  How my father essentially saved me from myself and I think that’s the biggest part of a Fathers (and Mother’s) job description.  I can’t count the times my father has bailed me out of my own stupidity, and somehow still managed to keep a head level enough not to disown me (I’m sure he’s been tempted on one or more occasion).  I can’t count the number of times he (and my mother) acted as a lifeline, allowing me to keep my head above water and I could never hope to count the number of times he was there to listen to me rant about work or challenges or life in general.  Or offer me sage counsel during times of trial or failure, times that happened more than I’d like to admit.  And only recently have I become wise enough myself to listen, and regret the many years where I wasn’t smart enough to.

And while I can’t count the number of times my father was there to give me a helping hand (or offer me one during times I was too stubborn or blind to see it), I could never imagine how many times he wanted to knock some sense into my think head, mostly during my teenage years.  While I wasn’t a typical teenager, my father still had plenty to put up with during those wasted years.  I was an outcast, not the worst mind you, but with the exception of my final two years in high school, I shared the same postal code with some of the kids who grew up harbouring violent grudges (think Steve Buscemi in Billy Madison), and looking back on it now, I took my frustration and self-pity out on my family, primarily my father.  I have a well-earned reputation for being a sarcastic, wise-cracking jackass who needs to learn a little more verbal discretion sometimes (I’m pretty much banned from church) and I cut some of those nasty teeth on those around me, especially my father.  Thinking back on it now, there were probably plenty of times my father wanted to kick my ass and I more than deserved it every occasion.  Hell, I would have kicked my ass for just some of the grief I gave him had the positions been reversed.  Even today, I scratch my head, wondering where he found the resolve not to (in that same vein, I also wonder how my long-suffering mother put up with the two of us, locking horns for no other reason than I was a scrawny teenager full of hormones and stupidity).

It’s only recently that I have begun to understand how lucky I truly am.  How blessed.  I wasn’t merely an outcast at school, but struggled to find acceptance in the tiny little town where I grew up.  But my father quietly encouraged my curiosity when I began questioning the church I had always believed in without question before, and he silently nurtured my political beliefs as they began to grow and mature, often opposing those he held.  When it looked like a group of pseudo neo-Nazis at my high school were going to decorate the ground with my brains after I mouthed off about them robbing and urinating on one of my friends, my mother confided in me that my father was quietly observing the situation and was prepared to bring hell down on anyone who touched me.  I inherited my appetite for reading from my father, and he’s a far more voracious reader than I am (I have co-workers, who if they read this, will probably find that hard to believe), but our tastes couldn’t be further apart. But the fact that he’s held little interest in the fiction I have occasionally dabbled in writing myself has never stopped him from prodding me to keep going, to push myself and test my own boundaries.  And even though he may not be a fan of the things I am drawn to, the things that go bump in the night and creatures of pure imagination that sail across the stars and slither in the shadows, he’s still my best supporter.

Perhaps the best example of my father’s belief in letting me be my own person is Canada’s national passion; the sport of hockey.  In small town Canada, the local hockey rink is perhaps the most important building in town, more important than schools, churches, libraries and even city hall.  Hockey is the religion of small town Canada, the arena the altar where it’s worshipped, and to say my lack of interest during my early years went against the grain would be like saying that Elvis was only a slightly successful musician.  To add a little extra fuel to the proverbial fire, my father was a long time coach and there were a number of occasions that both he and my mother were stopped in the middle of the street by friends and neighbours alike, demanding that I be forced to play, regardless of what I wanted (such is the mentality of the small Canadian town).  But never once did either my mother or my hockey coaching father surrender to the small-minded pressure of their peers and force me to pick up a hockey stick.  It wasn’t until I became a teenager that my interest in hockey naturally grew, and then it was purely my choice.

And it’s only recently that I’ve begun to respect the man my father is.  A decorated firefighter, he was awarded medals for saving lives when he wasn’t on duty.  He was recognized by the province of Ontario for his volunteer work in girls softball, coaching a team to a provincial championship in a time when women’s sports were considered irrelevant.  And while he never forced me to do anything I didn’t want to, he made sure I kept my word.  When I wanted to quit clarinet lessons after finding out it was work (yeah, I studied clarinet for a year, shut up yer face), he made me stick it out for the full year I had committed to.  Whenever I wanted to quit soccer (my preferred sport that was eventually replaced by hockey) because I was clumsy and not as good as the other kids (and they let me know it), he made me stick with it for the summer, because he knew I’d be first in line for registration the following spring.  Every time I decided to wallow in self-pity, he was there to kick my butt out of it (or at least try) and the only reason I continued to study karate long enough to earn my black belt was because he prodded me forward (even on the occasions where I was deliberately failed, the test being to see how I would handle adversity).  There are some people whose father left them when they were barely able to walk, was never there to offer protection or guidance; I had a man of his word who believed in the value of your promise to call father.  He (and my mother) even dared to believe in me even during the many, many times I refused to believe in myself.

Thinking on it now, everything good about me, my values, my tolerance, my patience, I got from my father (and you too, mom), and everything about me I wish I didn’t have, well, that’s all me.  I’m not where I’d like to be in life (yet), and there are times, late at night, when I worry I’ve let my father down.  That I haven’t justified his faith in me with deed or accomplishment.  And then I smile and realize if I ever admitted that to him, he’d tell me to stop being stupid.  The truth of the matter is, if I were twice the man I am right now, I’d still only be half the man my father is and his example pushes me to strive better.

So here’s what it boils down to-the world is a haven of threats and danger, populated with devils and monsters clothed in greed using fear and violence as their tools.  There is no shortage of fallen angels or suave demons waiting to seduce children with temptation and foolish indulgence and many of the bogey men who stalk us are beasts of our own making.  The bitter truth is sometimes there’s precious little parents can do to protect their children, whether from the world or from themselves.  Sometimes it’s all a father can do to wisely let his sons and daughters endure the storms when they can, fight alongside them when they need, embrace them when it’s over and help them pick up the pieces later.  I often wonder how I would cope if I ever have the honour of becoming a father, how to manage with all the fears and uncertainty and eventual heartbreak.  People tell frightened new parents that there’s no such thing as a parenting textbook, but should the day ever arrive that I’m gently cradling a child of my own in my arms, I could do a hell of a lot worse than to follow my Father’s example.

I was (and still am) a child of imagination, wonder and mystery.  I live in a world of nightmares and miracles, where werewolves and vampires and other citizens of the dark are kept at bay by bravery and magic.  And while the world I chose to live in growing up included the likes of Batman and Superman and countless other super heroes of lore, my father is, and will always remain, my greatest hero and it’s only now and only through these words that I have the courage to say out loud that I love you Dad.  Maybe one day soon I can be a stronger man, but only because of your example.  And in the meantime, if I fall, I know that, like all those years at the Ancaster (or was it Lincoln) fair, you’ll catch me.

Shayne Kempton

 A TRUE HERO