4) KENNEDY CAMPAIGN A BRIGHT SPOT IN FRUSTRATING TORONTO ELECTION
PV Ontario Bureau
The results from Ontario's municipal elections were still coming in late on Oct. 22 as People's Voice went to press, but one thing is clear – Toronto's reduced city council reflects a reduced democracy.
When Doug Ford cut Toronto council in half, well into the election campaign, one of his objectives was to squeeze out candidates who might challenge the corporate-driven, pro-developer policies that tend to dominate City Hall. Working class candidates would be hard-pressed to secure the massive financial resources necessary to mount a serious campaign. Women, queer and racialized candidates would be elbowed aside in favour of “more electable” white men.
The new city council includes less than one-third women, and less than 10% racialized people. Politically, it leans strongly to the right and re-elected mayor John Tory will face little opposition to his pro-business, neoliberal austerity policies.
As soon as the reduction in seats was announced many candidates with strong, progressive community campaigns backed out. Overwhelmingly, these were women and racialized people. Granted, such candidates are not naturally left-wing, but in this case there seems to have been a correlation between diversity and progressive politics. In part, this is because their candidacy spoke directly to issues of accessibility and equity and how these apply in the concrete world of municipal services and programs.
The overall loss is two-fold – first, fewer progressives get elected; second, there is reduced community engagement around working-class demands.
There were, of course, exceptions to this. One of the bright spots was Helen Kennedy's campaign for public school trustee. Running for her first time, Kennedy won nearly 20% of the vote and placed a strong third in a race that had seven candidates.
Kennedy's campaign was the only one in the ward, and one of the few in the entire city, that was explicitly focused on a set of working class and progressive demands for public education. While many centrist candidates spoke in general terms about resources for schools and inclusivity for students, Kennedy openly campaigned for improvements to the provincial funding formula, specific anti-oppression programs, and a clear-cut rejection of privatization and austerity.
The enduring gain of her campaign is that it united labour and progressive voices around a concrete platform, building a solid basis for a badly-needed civic reform movement in Toronto. It demonstrates the strength of politics that reject opportunism, by engaging people in an alternative vision that puts the needs of students, workers and communities ahead of corporate power and profit.
At a moment of escalating attacks against the working class and weak leadership from most of the labour movement, Kennedy's campaign is an example of precisely the kind of concrete grassroots organizing necessary for a thriving, province-wide fightback movement.
(The above article is from the November 1-15, 2018, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)