The Battle for Toronto-Danforth

Posted with permission of the author Theresa Lubowitz

The Battle for Toronto-Danforth

February 11, 2012

The Candidates

Last month the federal NDP nominated Craig Scott, a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Scott’s areas of political interests include human rights issues, both around the world and here at home with our Aboriginal peoples, and ending discrimination in the housing sector.

This month, the federal Liberals nominated advertising executive and FLICK OFF founder Grant Gordon. Gordon’s firm, which he also founded, focuses on branding socially and environmentally responsible companies. His candidacy for the Liberal nomination made waves in the news because of the fresh, positive, and fun approach he brought to politics through an amusing call to action for voters. Gordon’s political interests include protecting the environment and the security of our pension system.

Both candidates reside in Riverdale and have had successful careers making a difference in Canada and beyond its borders.

Should Toronto-Danforth add up to 102 or 36?

Craig Scott, left, and Grant Gordon, right

If both candidates appear to be seemingly well-meaning people who have made a positive impact on society, what should voters in Toronto-Danforth base their choice of new representation on?

It’s no secret that in a parliament where a majority of seats belong to Conservatives, a single riding going Liberal or NDP will not tip the scales into some new political reality for Canadians. It’s also likely being argued by the NDP that returning that party to 102 seats will put a ‘progressive’ party one step closer to removing Conservatives from office in three years time.  The NDP, for those who don’t know, sat at 102 seats before a newly elected Quebec MP quickly tired of their party and its performance as the Official Opposition and turned to the third-place Liberals to make a more substantial impact on Canadian public life (which might tell you something about the effectiveness of the Opposition NDP). The NDP will also argue during this by-election that they have a proven track record of holding progressive positions and taking principled stands against federal Conservatives.

This, I must bluntly say, is utter garbage. In the last decade in federal politics the NDP has not only chosen political expediency over progressive policy time and time again but they have unforgivably done so hand-in-hand with their Conservative counterparts.

The Real NDP Record: May 2nd, 2011 – Present

The NDP candidate in Toronto-Danforth may have an academic record of studying about human rights issues and focusing on the shamefully appalling conditions many of our Aboriginal peoples face within our own borders. But his party has a very clear record of, at times where their party was most powerful (which despite their current seat total was in 2005, not now), chose to take the politically advantageous route over the one that would help those worst off. Toronto-Danforth remaining in NDP hands will only continue a pattern of valuing politics over progress at the expense of  the well-being of Canadians.

After the May 2nd election, NDP supporters everywhere congratulated themselves on their ‘historic’ victory (which I suppose to the NDP is what second place and having no power is called). They naturally ignored the fact that it was precisely their splitting of votes with Liberals in Ontario that handed Stephen Harper the first Conservative majority government since Mulroney won a second term in 1988.

And they may be right. Handing a majority to the most power-hungry and power-hoarding Prime Minister in Canadian history in order to get Official Opposition status in the House of Commons without being able to overturn any draconian legislation the new government might put into law is probably cause for celebration. I tend to disagree with them on this point.

They have since demonstrated that the pros outweigh the cons in the new power reality in the House by having their top members almost never present within its walls, despite their beloved former leader Jack Layton’s suggestion during the election that if you ‘don’t show up for work, you don’t get a promotion’. For those wondering, that promotion to Leader of the Official Opposition for whoever wins the NDP leadership comes with a $75, 516 bump in pay. In the NDP’s eyes, Official Opposition doesn’t mean you need to be officially present, it’s really more about getting to play shadow Cabinet and touring around the country to determine who will get to be leader of that shadow Cabinet.

I personally can’t recall a single issue the NDP have been front and centre on in defense of Canadians in the time they have held Official Opposition status. Yet Toronto-Danforth candidate Craig Scott has said, “What we have seen is that only the Official Opposition NDP can really stand up to Stephen Harper day after day.” I’m sorry, Mr. Scott, I simply cannot agree. And if the NDP aren’t going to do their job, perhaps they shouldn’t have it or ask for an increase in responsibilities.

The Real NDP Record: Minority Parliaments

None of this is new. If elected, Craig Scott will sit as a member of a Party that joined hands with Conservatives and voted down the Kelowna Accord and National Child Care. A party that helped install a minority and then majority Conservative government that cancelled Kyoto and thinks purchasing fighter jets ill-suited for our defense projects is more important than ensuring low-income seniors who have put a lifetime into this country are supported in what should be their golden years.

It is one thing to talk about being progressive, it is another entirely to actually be progressive and bring progressive change to this country. Tommy Douglas knew this and put country before party by working with Lester Pearson and his administration to help create, in relative terms, what was probably the most progressive period of policy reforms Canadians have ever seen at the federal level.

What does following in Layton’s footsteps mean?

Upon being nominated for the NDP in Toronto-Danforth, Craig Scott said, “Jack Layton left some big shoes to fill. I’m not planning to stand in his shoes, just follow in his footsteps.” But what does following in Jack Layton’s footsteps mean?

It means the Kelowna Accord, an agreement arranged by the federal government and Aboriginal leaders over 18 months with an historic price tag of financial support to Aboriginal communities to the tune of $5 billion, was worth less to the NDP and its leader than an increase of 10 members in their caucus on Parliament Hill. The loss of this deal to Aboriginal communities and the resulting Conservative government that was formed, were less important to the NDP than 10 new orange-sporting MPs. The NDP slogan of that campaign, ‘Getting Results for People’, was true, but mainly for ten specific people who became New Democrat MPs and not for those worst off in our country, specifically our Aboriginal peoples, as we have seen most recently in Attawapiskat.

It means a national childcare program that would assist Canadian families and single-parent households in particular with childcare options was less important than those same 10 New Democrat MPs joining their counterparts in the House of Commons. This despite the fact that increased childcare options at the provincial level have cut poverty levels in single-parent homes almost in half in the last decade. A decade that federal involvement has been absent in large part because the NDP chose 10 seats over a national childcare plan that would have helped pull millions of mostly single mothers out of poverty. But if pulling Aboriginals out of poverty is not more important than 10 seats, why should doing the same for women have been worth it?

This may seem hyperbolic, especially to NDP supporters, but there is one very important fact we must remember about the NDP teaming up with the Harper Conservatives to vote down Kelowna and National Childcare. The 2005 vote was the first time in Canadian Parliamentary history that a government was voted down on a motion of non-confidence that was not related to any legislation or policy put before the House. The 2005 Liberal government, on the verge of implementing the recently finalized Kelowna Accord, was voted down for the sake of it. And in the NDP’s case, for the sake of ten seats. There was no disagreement on a budget or a particularly contentious piece of legislation. The Conservatives and the NDP simply banded together to vote out a government that held seats they both wanted.

What Craig Scott Means to the NDP

To the NDP, electing Craig Scott, electing one more New Democrat to the House of Commons, is incredibly important  because of how strongly they feel another NDP voice in the House will impact its proceedings. Yet none of the party’s leadership candidates have been in the House regularly this past year to hold the government to account. The NDP want voters to believe that electing Craig Scott is of grave importance because of the value every single NDP voice brings to the House, despite the absence of some of their best known members.

In 2006, 10 more New Democrat MPs did not improve the lives of those worst off in Canada. In 2011, 66 more New Democrats getting elected to the House did not improve the lives of those worst off in Canada.

In 1958 the Liberal Party of Canada lost 54% of the seats it held in the previous election. It had already been reduced from its historic term in office to Official Opposition in the previous campaign. Yet by 1963, 29 new Liberal MPs helped remove a Tory government and replace it with Canada’s most progressive administration in history.

In 1984 Liberals faced a similar trouncing, losing 73% of the seats they had won only four years previous. But by 1993 they were back in government and took such progressive action as abiding by international diplomacy by staying out of Iraq, signing the Kyoto Accord and establishing Canada as a strong supporter of the environment, and legalizing gay marriage, a move since adopted by several states south of the border.

Election as an End versus Election as a Means to an End

What the NDP has never understood even after May 2nd, 2011, is that the election of an NDP MP is not a victory in and of itself. The victory comes after that MP contributes to legislation that improves the lives of Canadians. That is what Members of Parliament are elected to do, whether in opposition or government.

Liberals have always understood this. They have always understood that one member is one more member towards the threshold required to form government and truly impact the lives of Canadians, especially those worst off, for the better. The NDP believe in a politics that is self-satisfied with small gains for their party. Liberals believe in a politics that is transformative and progressive and are the only party with a true governing record to show for it.

In Toronto-Danforth you can vote for Craig Scott and be satisfied with another NDP member becoming a Member of Parliament, as the NDP themselves will be.

Or you can elect Grant Gordon and support a Liberal Party that is committed not to being satisfied with his or any member’s election unless it eventually contributes to the election of a progressive government in Canada once more. For Liberals, the end result is not election, it is progressive governance on behalf of the Canadian people. The NDP have failed to even provide progressive opposition or any real opposition at all since the 2011 election. Liberals have been rebuilding, adopting progressive new policies and holding Conservatives to account at every turn.

Who would you trust to stand up to Harper? A Liberal Party that has a record of instituting progressive policy? Or an NDP that proudly helped Harper kill progressive government in Canada and allowed it to be replaced it with slash and burn conservatism? To me the choice is clear. Records trump rhetoric every single time. Actions truly speak louder than words.


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