Keeping politics on the streets: a post-election reflection

November 2011

I have to say, after all of those personal attacks, the slights against immigrants and the clever NDP ad involving a pair of bright orange pumps, the outcome of this years provincial election was decidedly anticlimactic.

I’ll admit, a small part of me did fear a conservative trifecta, the hat trick of doom.

But a larger part of me, okay the rest of me, was unabashedly hoping and praying for Andrea Horwath’s success. NDP supporters were disappointed when McGuinty was elected for the third time in a row.

Not as disappointed as we would have been if Hudak won, for obvious reasons.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we must not lose hope. We, the vaguely left, must do as we have always done and keep fighting.

We lost our champion in parliament, we missed our chance in the provincial legislature, we are still mourning the loss at the municipal level, but Toronto activists must not stop.

Even though we may not be changing the world overnight, even though we were disap- pointed, election-wise—it appears that we are still in a different place than we were last year. I believe that recent events indicate that the collective consciousness is moving towards a more progressive and inclusive system, socially and economically.

Sustainable initiatives are popping up, local produce is becoming more popular, being green is trendy. Protestors demanding change for our system that takes from the majority and gives to a minority are occupying the neighbourhoods of the highest rollers all over the world.

While corporations get more and more power, more and more people every day realize that our current system is not one that they can support.

Even though McGuinty was elected for the third time in a row, Harper got a majority and Rob Ford has control over the best city in Canada, I still believe progress is happening. Slowly, subtly, we’re moving forward.

I mean really, would any of us thought this time last year that an NDP candidate would actually have a chance in an election? That in itself is proof enough that we are doing some- thing right. So maybe we haven’t won the war just yet, but are getting a fair few battles under our proverbial and collective belt.

But we must not stop. And by we I don’t just mean activists. I mean everyone. Now that the election is over, don’t stop thinking about politics. Now that the Occupy Toronto protest is no longer headline news, don’t forget why people are still camped out at St. James Park.

Now that we’ve hit a lull, don’t forget that every second you are not screaming for your rights, stamping your feet and raising your fists, you are wasting a chance to build a better world for your children, your grandchildren, even your future self if we work hard enough.

I implore you to maintain your interest in our political situation. Even when all evidence of Jack Layton’s memorial has been washed away by the rain, when all of the Elections On- tario ads have left the TTC, if and when Occupy Toronto links are no longer coming up on our news feeds, stay on top of what’s going on.

This is a formal request for you to stay active. People need to realize that it is when things stop appearing on the news, we need to be paying the most attention.

The streets of our city have been a hotbed of activity. From last year’s G20 catastrophe, to Jack Layton’s death this summer, and finally with Occupy Toronto, it seems to be that in Toronto the political is now on the street.

Our public sphere is no longer a chamber of elected officials, which really hasn’t felt all that public in a while; indeed the public sphere is your status updates, your tweets, your blogs and your marches. It is the ground you walk on as you wave a placard and it is the air you are breathing as you sing your songs of freedom.

So let’s keep it that way. Let’s keep the Arab Spring and North African revolutions in mind. Let’s keep asking for the troops to come home. Let’s keep talking about service cuts in the city and representing the 99 per cent.

We must not let the current government or a culture of apathy define how we view the democratic system or how we view our country. All we have is the stolen land we stand on so we better make our voices heard. Discuss, participate and appreciate. Discuss the current situation, participate in the progressive movements in which you believe and appreciate the nature of your own potential to make a change in the place you live.

You must fight for your right to participate. You must demand your role. You are not sheep you are citizens. If you are not a citizen you are a resident. If you have no status, no one will hand it to you.

Fight for your existence or you will carry on unaware until our destructive and unsus- tainable ways finally reach our limit and the world, as we know it, crumbles around us.

Then what will you have? Nothing. What do you have now? Nothing. Better to know now while you can still do something about it.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, November 2011

Riding out the Orange Wave: Why you should vote NDP in the provincial election

October 2011

It’s that time again. It seems like just weeks ago I was trying to decide whether or not to vote strategically the federal election or toss my vote away on the NDP, the party I actually support.

Most people that I spoke to agreed; the thing to do was talk NDP but vote liberal (basically anything to keep the Conservatives out of power).

Jack layton proved me wrong. He proved us all wrong by winning he official opposition position for the New Democratic Party.

He inspired hope for the future and restored some semblance of my faith in our parliamentary process. The thought of Harper having a majority didn’t seem so bad of someone like Jack layton was around to keep him in check.

Unfortunately, just months after his historic success, the leader of the NDP left us. But as anyone who was in downtown Toronto during the week of his passing could see, the hope he instilled during his life was still in our hearts, despite his death.

Now, in the light of the upcoming provincial election, we need to capitalize on what’s left of that hope, that energy. We need to keep it alive long enough for Andrea Horwath, NDP candidate for Premier, to ride what’s left of the orange wave and let it take her straight into our provincial legislature.

If there was a time that I would believe it were possible for the NDP to become the leaders of Ontario, it would be now, in the wake of Jack layton’s success last May.

He may not be around to physically support Horwath during her campaign, but his spirit, and the spirits he raised in generations of cynical, apathetic or disinterested voters was the greatest gift of support he could have given her.

I feel an incredible sense of urgency with this election.

If Andrea Horwath wins, and does well as premier, then she will have won a monumental battle for the vaguely left on the political spectrum.

If she succeeds, then serious progress will have one foot in the door to Canadian politics, the same door that Jack layton opened in the spring.

The NDP might have a chance to demonstrate decades of campaign promises, and show Canadi- ans that there is more to politics than the never-ending battle between the liberals and Conservatives.

“In this election you have a choice,” says Horwath, “you can stick with the status quo that’s just not working, or you can choose change.”

This election isn’t just about improving the circumstance of Ontario’s goods and services for the next four years, it’s about making the NDP a serious contender, and changing the way voters see Canadian political parties and the entire electoral process.

“People are thirsty for positive change,” says Horwath. And I pray she can give it to us. Now, we as voters now have our part to play. Don’t fall prey to the previous routine of underestimating the NDP and voting liberal. We’ve had liberal, we know we don’t want Conservative, so lets give the NDP a try.

The only way this will work is if all those thousands of people that lined up for layton’s funeral and wrote messages of love on city hall put that same faith they had in the man into his party. And in Andrea Horwath.

Jack layton may be gone but his official opposition still remains. Hope for Canada still remains. A progressive presence in parliament still remains.

Lets give Ontario that chance.

As published in the Ryerson Free Press, October 2011

His vision can still be won: A country mourns Jack Layton

September 2011

At 61, Jack Layton was by no means a young man. He had lead a long and full life compared to most.

But as the first NDP leader to make the New Democratic Party official opposition in Canadian history, I would say he still had a lot of life to live.

The one thing we can do, as Canadians, is to make sure that his visions and his hope and optimism for Canada’s future did not die with him.

This year’s federal election was a first in many ways. It boasted the a higher voter turnout than the previous election, but what’s more impor- tant, those votes changed the landscape of Canadian politics.

The majority of Quebec’s ridings were won by rookie NDP MPs, and rendered the Bloc Quebecois more or less obsolete as it lost party status for the first time since its first election.

The Liberal party, for so long considered Canada’s natural governing party, fell into third place.

Neither of the party leaders, Gilles Duceppe and Michael Ignatieff managed to secure even their own ridings, never mind a foothold for their parties in Parliament. Elizabeth May became the first green Party candidate to win a seat in the House of Commons.

As of May 2nd the view from Ottawa was a majority blue (how that happened I will never understand) but with a strong contrast of orange, and maybe a few drops of green.

But above all, the view was a hopeful one. for the first time in my living memory, there appeared to be a chance for reform in Canada at the federal level. I’m convinced the only person that could possibly inspire hope after seeing a conservative majority was Jack Layton.

His post-election speech was seriously awesome (in the biblical sense), I remember being at a loss in understanding how it was Harper was still in power, and there was Smiling Jack, up on stage, waving his cane like a banner, barely able to get a word in above all the cheering.

As far as I am concerned, Jack Layton won the election. He secured official opposition, a huge achievement, and was ready to use that influence to make some serious change in parliament.

Now that he has left us, we cannot lose that hope he had in the face of another term with Harper. If he could look to that future and still have hope, so must we as well.

I refuse to believe that without Jack Layton the New Democratic Party will fall from its current state of grace. We cannot allow his success to be fleeting. Though I feel this incredible despair with his passing. I be- lieve his winning the official opposition really was a historical moment and I pray that his hope and optimism (so refreshing in our culture of apathy) do not become a blip in Canadian political history.

In a letter to written two days before his death, Jack Layton said to the youth: “I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.”

I hope that young people really acknowledge the importance of his accomplishments and recognize that we need to carry on in that same direction if we are going to see a change in the face of Canadian politics. We are at a tipping point. We can either carry on and really see a difference in Canada and its international role, or fall back to the same destructive, oppressive, conservative system.

To all Canadians, Jack Layton said: “ We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change.”

Jack Layton may not have lived to make the changes he dreamed of and worked for, but he laid the foundation for it. He left us early, but he left us with an official opposition that can and will challenge the Harper government.

He left us with a totally new political terrain for Canada.

He left us further ahead than I think we have been in a long time, and finally, he left us with hope. Let us not give up that hope.

“Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done,” Jack closes his letter. In Jack Layton’s memory, let’s fight for a better Canada.

as published in the Ryerson Free Press, September 2011