Ontario, Canada is Populist Battleground in Coming Elections

Toronto     The late Rob Ford gave steady and staid Toronto an international profile as mayor that wasn’t at the top of the local tourist board’s wish list.  He had ridden into office on a wave of populist discontent from the outer, working and middle-income districts of the city of Toronto, and he rode out on scandals involving not only his pronouncements and policies, some of which were acceptable to ACORN Canada, but also on his stays in drug rehab and videos of him buying crack on the streets, while mayor.  His excuse is a political classic.  He simply shrugged and said he “was hammered.”  His most consistent defender was his brother, an elected member of the Toronto city council at that time.

Now, it’s brother, Doug Ford who has them shaking in their snow boots with his upset win as leader for the Progressive Conservatives (whatever that oxymoron means as a name for a political party) making him a surprise, dark horse candidate for Premier of Ontario, the Canadian province containing more than a quarter of the country’s population as well as the cosmopolitan city of Toronto.  Pundits and opponents are quickly trying to brand Ford as the “Trump of the North,” and though the comparison is not exact, there are some likely similarities.   He has raised the question of revisiting abortion laws for example and his positions on climate change are questionable, but he is no Trump when it comes to immigrants and immigration, enjoying strong support in his races from the recently arrived, known as “new” Canadians in the north.  Observers believe his success in the party primary indicates that he may be able to tap into the feelings of anger and alienation in deindustrialized sections of Ontario where factories have closed and jobs have disappeared.  His record on issues effecting suburban women would not make him their first choice though nor would his tendency to move political closer to the bullying part of the spectrum.  Whatever might be the case, at the least his name on the list guarantees a very different election in the coming months.

The race is set to determine whether the longstanding government of the Liberals will be allowed to continue.  Polls indicate that there is a lot of voter fatigue with their government, although the current premier had been trying to recast herself as a candidate of change, Ford’s presence in the race is likely to disrupt that strategy.  Whether the more progressive, minority New Democrats can take advantage is also an open question.

The Ontario election seems to be worth following as part of the global contest over populism.  There is no question the election is shaping up as perhaps the least Canadian in terms of classic norms and sensibilities that has been seen in the great north in many decades.

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Please enjoy Led Zeppelin’s Immigration Song.

And celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Otis Redding’s Sittin On the Dock of the Bay.

Thanks to KABF.

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Meeting Populism Head On, Means Bringing Back the Base with Organizing

New Orleans   So resistance and protests might be working to pushback some of the assault on basic American principles, rights, and obligations to people, and we’re getting a little help from the courts, although who knows how long that might last, but I have to beat my usual drum a bit and remind that much of the appeal of Trump’s populist call is to people who rightfully should be our base. If we want to convert them, we have to engage them first, and that means real commitment and work in organizing.

It’s not just me. I find support for this position on all sides of the argument.

Aaron Bartley, who runs a housing development and community organizing operation called, PUSH Buffalo, circulated a piece carried in the Huffington Post called “How Our Cities Will Save Us From Trump.” He makes the interesting observation as an organizer, that despite the fact that he has emerged as White House puppeteer-in-charge, Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon has at best only a tenuous hold on their putative base. Making a point about street-heat, Aaron argues,

Bannon has done none of this painstaking work. While his hardline base of rural and Tea Party suburbanites is substantial, it is dispersed and spends far more time in chat rooms than town squares. The power of online networks and propaganda outlets is not to be discounted—after all it has propelled Bannon to his status as a diabolical global overlord—but the fascists’ lack of street mobilization capacity and their distance from capital’s key assets will neuter them in the next phase of urban-centric mass mobilization.

Although Aaron’s main theme is that diverse coalitions for change formed in the cities, including those with capital and innovation, are hedges against the worst of it, implicit in his Bannon point is an argument that if we were willing to challenge the ideology and practice at the heart of his base – as organizers – it’s core weaknesses might turn into our strengths.

Another former ACORN organizer, Jeff Elmer, reconnected with a piece he thought instructive called “How to Culture Jam a Populist in Four East Steps” by Andres Miguel Rondon a native-Venezuelan in the caracaschronicles.com. Rondon was comparing the lengthy standoff between Hugo Chavez and his brand of Latin American populism with the elites he attacked and who opposed him for years with much the same arguments as those being thrown at Trump now. Having visited some years ago briefly, it’s less than a perfect fit, but one piece of Rondon’s advice from the right side of the street is exactly correct when he advises:

actually go to the slums and to the countryside. And not for a speech, or a rally, but for game of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too, that they had tumbao and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show they were real. And no, this is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.

Of course Rondon is a sad liar, as Trump would say, because there’s nothing easy about that 4th step he recommends, because he is also implicitly calling for us to engage and organize, and there’s nothing easy about organizing, even though that is what just might save America right now, even more than cities and dominoes.

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