Monday, October 06, 2003

Canadian readers will be aware that Ontario's Progressive Conservative party was thrown out of office last Thursday. Not just "defeated", but pretty much humiliated... their arch-rivals, the Liberal party, grabbed 72 out of the 103 Ontario seats, leaving the "Tories" with just 24. (The leftist third party, the NDP, had their seat share reduced to 7 seats from the 9 they had in the previous election.)

Thing is, this is an election with significance to Americans, because the Tories weren't really "Progressive" at all... they were neo-cons through and through, taking much of their policy and rhetoric from the Republican party: preaching the gospel of tax cuts, constantly cutting spending in order to choke regulation, privatizing everything in sight, attacking immigrants, even (oddly enough) supporting the war in Iraq. This makes sense... aside from (perhaps) Alberta, Ontario is the province most akin to the United States in terms of its economy and temperment, and the Tories have always had a big advantage there, generally dominating Ontario politics. They might as well have renamed themselves "Republicans", and may well have done so if Canada were actually a Republic.

And they lost and lost big.

More than that, they lost to a Liberal party that defied a lot of conventional wisdom. A party whose ads said, and I quote "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either; our schools and hospitals need that money desperately". A party that (famously) eschewed attack ads, which didn't have the money or the corporate support of its opposition, that was up against some pretty noticeably gerrymandered seats and a bias towards conservative-voting rural electors, that was facing enormous vote-splitting with the NDP that lost it the election last time, and had a leader who didn't have the slick personal charisma of most politicians- if anything, Dalton McGuinty is a pretty huge square and is definitely a policy wonk. The Liberal party won big by utterly and completely rejecting neo-conservatism and everything it stands for.

Point is, if it worked in Ontario, the most Americanized part of Canada, it can work in the United States too. Not all of the United States, of course... nobody would argue that, and there are real differences between even Ontarians and Americans. Still, it shows that the neo-conservative conventional wisdom can indeed be rejected, and that's a major step. Neither Americans nor Canadians are doomed to the cycle of massive tax cuts and spending cuts that rip the beating heart out of government; they can reject it and ask for something different. As the Liberals said, they can "choose change".

Ontario made the choice. America can too.

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