The following article published in Canada’s Globe and Mail details how big business and the establishment “killed” the social democratic government of Ontario in 1990. It’s short and worth reading its entirety.
The article summarises the lengths to which the right will go to subvert the democratic will of people who believe in a fairer society. And therein lie some incredibly important lessons we must always remember. I try to tease out some of these lessons from this case study below. But make sure you read the whole article!
Ontario’s NDP (New Democratic Party) government was elected government of Ontario on 1st October 1990.
within months Mr. Rae’s government faced an unrelenting, brutal four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history.
The attacks came from all sides. It is no exaggeration to say hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Launched within the very first year of the new government, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords and lobbying/government relations firms. Their goal was clear, and they had the money and power to achieve it.
Lesson 1) Money and power are against you. Don’t kid yourself into thinking otherwise.
The tactics were not necessarily subtle. Though the Soviet Union was ignominiously imploding, right-wing columnists such as Diane Francis and Barbara Amiel actually resorted to old-fashioned red baiting, smearing the government as “red” or “communist.” And after the new finance minister’s very first meeting with the banking community , a bank vice-president told him, in the presence of an aide: “Nice speech, Mr. Minister, but we’re going to kill you.” And they did.
Lesson 2) Don’t sit there and take the smear attacks. Fight back, and fight back hard. Don’t let the bastards get the better of you.
NDP government decision-makers, while innocent about so much, at least understood that the corporate world was not given to bluffing. Time after time they responded to the endless corporate blackmail by compromising on policies and commitments. In this way, they alienated many of their own followers but without ever appeasing business interests. They never could.
Lesson 3) Don’t bow to threats with compromise. Remember who voted you in and the platform you were voted in on. Stand strong.
Some business protests bordered on the disloyal. Hysterical landlords took out an ad in The Wall Street Journal warning Americans not to invest in “leftist Ontario.” Others demanded the complete repudiation by the government of its most cherished legislation, as when several coalitions of powerful business interests, managed by government relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton, demanded the NDP scrap its entire plan to amend the Labour Relations Act. This was the kind of class warfare Lenin might have admired, especially since the government had already withdrawn many of its intended changes in order to meet business criticism.
Lesson 4) Seriously. Don’t compromise.
Perhaps the most chilling and underestimated of the government’s enemies were the Toronto police, whose actions at times bordered dangerously on virtual insubordination against the civilian authorities. Here too certain newspapers and radio commentators repeatedly and deliberately inflamed angry officers against the government. Most successful was the Sun’s ongoing, systematic campaign to drive a wedge between the government and the Toronto police force, sometimes with the collusion of the police themselves.
Lesson 5) The private media are not and never will be your friend. Get your friends to help sideline and undermine the particularly nasty pro-business media.
There are a world of studies yet to be written about the Ontario NDP’s difficult and controversial years in office, none more important than the nature of the saboteurs who organized their very own Ontario coup. This includes much of the business community, government relations firms, the media and the police. There are lessons to learn here about the limits of left-wing politics in Canada. None of them are encouraging if you are a left-winger.
I suggest you read the whole article to get a better picture of just how hard it is to want to change society for the fairer. The story is insightful and intriguing.
In New Zealand we are up against the same forces. But if we learn the right lessons we can avoid the same fate.
Don’t falter, don’t compromise, and stand tall for the people who elected you. There’s a job to be done.