The 2011 provincial election has resulted in a more complex and potentially promising landscape for advocates. It has been more than twenty-five years since Ontarians have elected a minority government. This minority government will provide some openings for progress on policy development but not for the profound shifts in policy direction that we need and hope for.
This morning, the Wellesley Institute hosted a post-election discussion focusing on two questions:
1. Will the new parliament provide more opportunities for progress on policy that will reduce inequality? Or, will it result in a more timid approach by government?
2. As advocates, how will our relationships with the governing party, opposition parties, and civil servants change?
Joan Andrew, Public Servant in Residence at Ryerson, and Kerry Gillespie, editorial writer at the Toronto Star shared their insights on this new political landscape. Both speakers emphasized that government finances and broader economic conditions could swamp any room that the minority provides for an activist role in new policy initiatives. The election results could be interpreted as a rebuke to the Liberal government’s bold policies, such as green energy and northern development (i.e. the Far North Act), leading them to shy away from these types of bold policy moves in the future.
There are lessons to learn from the Harper government’s minority record.as a series of compromises and cooperation are less likely to occur. However, the hope for advocates is the prediction that there can be policy openings as the government will likely move between legislation that the NDP will support and legislation that the Conservatives will support. There are also lessons from the Harper minority government’s focus on policy that did not require legislative changes.
So what does this mean for the issues that concern us most in this province? In the light of the many Occupy movements happening around the world, and right here in Ontario, it’s not difficult to stir up a discussion about jobs and inequality.
Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Canada and Occupy Toronto have the potential to open up discussions of labour market policy and more generally, the increased public debate on inequality and its impact is evident in this movement and is beginning to be seen in the policy debates.
Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University and blogger Alex Himelfarb says:
“What we are seeing right now in the U.S. and spreading to Canada is quite remarkable. People, mostly young, but also across the generations have decided not to wait for their politicians to lead. All great change starts outside of conventional politics and now the ‘other 99 percent’ are saying no to more of the same on Wall Street, at the Tar Sands, and beyond. They are saying that the economy and the environment are being wrecked by a powerful few and it is not right that the rest have to pay the freight – and they are demanding better.”
The discussion ended with the conclusion that we need to do better, to connect our services to taxes, and to connect a better life to good jobs in this province, not just for some, but for everyone. We also need to address the politics of envy – when it seems that things are being taken away and broken down, it’s easy to turn on each other and criticize what others have. The key, however, is looking at what we have, building on it, and finding ways to ensure that the benefits are felt by those who need it most.