Doug Ford’s Ontario: Hard Right Turn
It is more than a little alarming that it is right-wing political forces that have gained more and more political space in the wake of the crisis. The range of forms of this insurgent right defies a single classification: electoral victories opening political space for a hyper-nationalist alt-right (U.S. and Germany); incorporation of neo-fascist forces into “formal” liberal democratic states (Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Philippines, Austria, Poland, and others); exceptional judicial-political coups (Brazil, Honduras); authoritarian constitutional regimes (Russia, China, India, Turkey); military coups (Egypt, Thailand); and still others.
It is often claimed, in the simple-mindedness that passes for political analysis in Canada, that our inclusionary polity has been innocent of these developments (although Canada is, perhaps, the most orthodox adherent to neoliberal policy precepts in the world). But with the far right gaining political space inside and outside the Conservative Party — as in the long years of the Stephen Harper governments, and now with the United Conservative Party in Alberta, the People’s Alliance in New Brunswick, and the Saskatchewan Party and Coalition Avenir Québec governments — this claim bears no scrutiny.
The election of the Doug Ford-led Conservative Party to a majority government in Ontario, Canada’s largest province by output and population, should leave little doubt that an authoritarian phase of neoliberalism is sinking deep roots in Canada. Ford’s election platform, A Plan for the People, played to the “Ford Nation” built by his brother Rob as mayor of Toronto in its themes of social conservatism, law and order, unwanted “illegal” migrants, and market populism. Ford adopted much of the inflammatory rhetoric of Trump, and a parallel narrative of “making Ontario great again” after years of “criminal” Liberal spending (with the same chants of “lock her up” for then-premier Kathleen Wynne as targeted Hillary Clinton) and domination by cultural “elites” in Toronto. In this, Ford fused a suburban, multiracial bloc of voters with traditional conservative support — many with longstanding hard-right leanings — among rural and wealthy voters. In turn, Ford empowered even more militant — some fascistic and openly racist — elements of the far right to come out from their sewers (as with ex-Rebel Media figure Faith Goldy placing third in a run for Toronto mayor).
There is no policy handbook that guides these emergent authoritarian regimes as they blend nationalism with neoliberalism. Still, features of the Ontario government policy matrix under Ford that fit this pattern can be discerned.
First, the Conservatives are committed to further “liberalisation” of the economy — with “open for business” signs symbolically installed at each border crossing. These policies will be layered into a growth model that is as “extensive” (larger market) as it is “intensive” (higher productivity), and sustains Ontario as a low-cost, low-tax regional production system. Some of Ford’s first moves were to scrap the carbon trading system, while simultaneously cutting the gas tax, 750 renewable energy projects, and the Green Ontario Fund (shamefully leaving Ontario without a climate change policy). Shortly after, Ford tabled legislation to roll back modest labour reforms addressing some of the problems of low-paid workers and to freeze a planned increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour, while also cutting back workplace inspections. New spaces for accumulation are, as well, to be pushed in the “ring of fire” in northern Ontario for mining, opening up “green spaces” for exurban development sprawl, and cannabis privatization.
Second, Ontario fiscal policy has been constrained for decades by targeted maximum fiscal deficits (normed, more or less, to move toward balanced budgets, with total debt kept in a range of 30–35 percent of provincial GDP). This has meant a budgetary practice under the Liberals of keeping program spending below the combined rates of inflation and growth to reduce steadily the size of government as a portion of the economy (with Ontario now having the lowest per-capita program spending in Canada). For the election, the Liberals allowed a modest deficit to fund a range of programs. Ford, in turn, ginned up charges of reckless Liberal spending and appointed a Financial Commission of Inquiry and an Ernst & Young Canada audit of the books to produce a $15 billion deficit (with some dispute over accounting procedures, in the same range as the Liberal projections). The Conservatives, however, promised during the election to increase spending on public transit, housing, childcare, and long-term care beds, with no cuts to services and public employees, and gas, income, small business, and corporate tax cuts. This is all to be funded, Ford argued, by $6 billion in savings through unnamed efficiencies.
This is, to say the least, a confused and incoherent fiscal policy that cannot hold. Indeed, it is austerity that has already been rolled out: a public-sector spending and hiring freeze; axing of a pharmacare program for young people; cuts to a school-repair program, cycling infrastructure, and mental-health funding; and appointment of a Task Force on Healthcare Reform led by a two-tier advocate. The precise mix of spending cuts, user fees, and monetization and privatization of assets will be sorted out in the coming economic statement and budget.
Third, the neoliberal deepening of economic institutions works in conjunction with measures that promote “social discipline” as the hard right sees it. The Conservatives have, for example, moved quickly to turf a modernization of the sex-ed curriculum, as well as materials to deal with reconciliation with First Nations; to legislate CUPE back to work at York University; to cut a basic-income pilot program and social-assistance rate increases (on the road, it seems, to revising some form of workfare); to withdraw from provincial obligations to settle and house refugee claimants; to block new oversight laws on the police; and to re-establish specialized policing units (the “guns and gangs” forces associated with extensive carding of racialized groups) in high-priority neighbourhoods. This is only a partial inventory of the ideological and economic mechanisms to instill the culture of fear and market discipline that Ford is deploying.
Finally, the Ford regime has been unhesitating in reinforcing the anti-democratic and authoritarian tendencies that have been integral to neoliberalism. Indeed, Ford’s most dramatic initial move was a unilateral cut to the size of Toronto’s city council in the midst of an election (as well as eliminating the elections of several regional government chairs). Ford was so keen to reduce the space for electing, as he put it, “lefties” in Toronto, he belligerently invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause to limit judicial oversight. The personalization and concentration of power around Ford is notable: the hypercentralization of executive power in the Premier’s Office; the ending of public ministerial mandate letters; the centralization of control over ministerial staff appointments and media contacts; the naming of special advisors and commissions to the Premier’s Office; the demotion of the ministerial status of First Nations issues; and the altering of parliamentary rules to limit the capacity to oppose government bills.
In sum, Fordism in Ontario is an extraordinarily contradictory — and dangerous — agenda. The antistate, market populism used to sustain the rate of accumulation at any cost exists alongside — indeed, depends upon — an increasingly interventionist and authoritarian state mobilizing its resources and reordering its administrative apparatuses to buttress this process. Ford’s “government for the people” thus pivots, like Trump’s regime in the U.S., around ideological appeals to a hard-right provincialism, patriarchal family values set against a hostile world of crime and terrorism, mobilization of ethnic and racial chauvinisms, and mystical market solutions for every ill.
Ontario under Ford has not mutated into an exceptional regime existing, as it does, within the faint veneer of liberal democracy. But Ford operates with ever fewer constraints — a nascent Bonapartism? — over his exercise of power. Both Ford’s core populist instincts and political calculations authorize and sanction the hard-right sections of his caucus, party, and extra-party militants; and his economic strategy hinges on ever more speculative, politicized, and extreme forms of accumulation. It would be utter folly to predict where this will end (no less in other regions of Canada). It is clear, moreover, that the Liberals are indicted in these very same processes; and the NDP has proven more inept than capable of developing an alternative to neoliberalism, as these policies have also made their claims on its vision and platform. Political fronts, a fighting and transformed union movement, ambitious socialist organizing, and alternatives have seldom been more urgent to confront the challenges of these uncertain and grave times.
Greg Albo teaches political economy at the Department of Political Science, York University, Toronto. He is currently co-editor of the Socialist Register. He is also on the editorial boards of Studies in Political Economy, Relay, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism, Canadian Dimension, The Bullet and Historical Materialism (England). Co-editor of A Different Kind of State: Popular Power and Democratic Administration and author of numerous articles in journals such as Studies in Political Economy, Socialist Register, Canadian Dimension, and Monthly Review.
Top US admiral bristles at criticism of ‘woke’ military: ‘We are not weak’
Adm. Michael Gilday, chief of Naval Operations, rebuffed pointed interrogations by GOP lawmakers who grilled him over his decision to recommend sailors read a book deemed by some conservatives as anti-American.
The U.S. Navy’s top admiral also defended moves to address and root out racism and extremism in the forces as well as its efforts to bolster inclusion and diversity, which have prompted criticism from some conservatives and Republican lawmakers.
“Do you personally consider advocating for the destruction of American capitalism to be extremist?” Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., asked Gilday during a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, referring to a passage from Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist,” which argues capitalism and racism are interlinked.
Banks continued to interrogate the admiral over specific quotes from Kendi’s book, which was a No. 1 New York Times best seller in 2020, and statements he had made elsewhere in the past.
Visibly distraught, Gilday fired back:
“I am not going to sit here and defend cherry-picked quotes from somebody’s book,” he said. “This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book. What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, and the United States Navy, as weak, as woke.”
He added that sailors had spent 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits — the longest deployments the Navy has done, he said.
“We are not weak. We are strong,” Gilday said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., also challenged the admiral by citing specific quotes from the book and asked him how those ideas laid out by Kendi would further advance or improve the Navy’s power.
Gilday responded by arguing the importance of transparency and open dialogue about racism.
“There is racism in the Navy just as there is racism in our country, and the way we are going to get out of it is by being honest and not to sweep it under the rug,” he expounded, adding that he does not agree with everything the author says in the book.
The key point however, he said, is for sailors “to be able to think critically.”
The exchange was the latest in vociferous complaints from some conservative leaders and lawmakers who suggest the armed forces are becoming a pawn for the country’s culture wars and “wokeness” ideology, as the military takes steps to address issues of racial inclusion, extremism, racism and white supremacy.
And only last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accosted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about Kendi’s book, which Cotton said promoted “critical race theories” at a different Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Austin was testifying.
Days earlier, Cotton and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas — two combat veterans — launched a “whistleblowers” online platform to report examples of “woke ideology” in the military.
“Enough is enough. We won’t let our military fall to woke ideology,” Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, said in a tweet.
Also in February, Austin instructed a one-day stand-down across the Defense Department pausing regular activities to address extremism and white nationalism in the ranks — an issue Austin declared as a priority after a number of rioters at the U.S. Capitol in January were found to have military backgrounds.
The stand down completed in April was an effort to better understand the scope of the problem of extremism in the ranks, Pentagon press secretary John F. Kirby said in a briefing then.
Earlier, Austin had revoked a ban on diversity training for the military.
More recently, in May, a U.S. Army animated ad focused on soldier diversity — featuring the real story of a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California — drew criticism and political backlash from some conservative lawmakers.
“Holy crap,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. . . .”
Cruz was referring to a TikTok video that compared the U.S. Army ad with a Russia campaign that showed buff soldiers doing push-ups and leaping out of airplanes, adding that the contrast made the American soldiers “into pansies.”
The confrontation Tuesday is also the latest in reproaches by Rep. Banks, who is a Naval Reserve officer, and other GOP members over Gilday’s recommendation to include Kendi’s book in the Chief of Naval Operations Professional Reading Program.
In February, Banks sent a letter to Gilday arguing that the views promoted in the book are “explicitly anti-American” and demanded Gilday explain the Navy’s decision to include it on the reading list or remove it.
Gilday responded to Banks in a letter obtained by Fox News saying that the book was included on the list because “it evokes the author’s own personal journey in understanding barriers to true inclusion, the deep nuances of racism and racial inequalities.”
Lamborn and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, D-Mo., also wrote a letter to the admiral to convey their concern about the inclusion of Kendi’s book as well as Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” and Jason Pierceson’s “Sexual Minorities and Politics.”
The GOP lawmakers argued the books “reinforce a view that America is a confederation of identity categories of the oppressed and their oppressors rather than a common homeland of individual citizens who are united by common purposes,“ Lamborn and Hartzler wrote, according to Fox News.
Looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021
Our understanding of events refines with time. New developments reframe the issues, and prompt reassessment of the solutions applied, their design and outcomes. What does looking back on the 1991 reforms in 2021 tell us?
For three decades, India celebrated and criticised the 1991 reforms. The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout. The reforms, they insist, were ‘home-grown’. In the years leading up to 1991, technocrats in government had been thinking and writing about how India’s economic policies had been blocking the country’s rise to potential and the structural changes needed. If the broad range of reforms—including tearing down the industrial license permit raj, an exchange rate correction, and liberalising foreign direct investment and trade policies—could be launched within a matter of days of a new government joining office, they argue, it is because the blueprints were ready, waiting for the go-ahead from the political leadership.
The reformers of 1991 say that the idea wasn’t only to tide over a Balance of Payments (BOP) crisis; the changes they brought in went beyond the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditionalities for the bailout.
At least two well-regarded technocrats that were important in the 1991 reforms disagree—publicly and in off-the-record conversations. In a media interview last month, one of them, the economic adviser in the reforms team, Dr Ashok Desai, suggested that if there were any reformers in government before the IMF “forced” India to liberalise in 1991, “they hid themselves very well”. According to him, after the BOP crisis was resolved, finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh turned “dead against reforms”.
The multiple versions of the reforms story make it difficult to separate fact from romance. It cannot be disputed, though, that the 1991 BOP crisis was a turning point for the economy. India had tided over BOP crises earlier with loans from the IMF, repaid them prematurely, and avoided going through with the bailout’s conditionalities. 1991 was singularly different because India was on the brink of default, which is likely to have forced politicians to set politics aside and listen to technocrats. Any default on external obligations would have meant hurting India’s credibility grievously and an inescapable sense of national shame. The government probably took the view that there was no choice other than to take corrective steps. Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao named Dr Manmohan Singh, who had been a technocrat in government and was well regarded in global policy circles, as his finance minister. Dr Singh clearly had the Prime Minister’s, his party’s and the IMF’s trust. Records irrefutably show that the Congress party’s acceptance of the reversals in the interventionist economic policies of the first four post-Independence decades was not secured by the Prime Minister. He had delegated the task of tackling doubts and resistance within the party to his ministers, in particular, the finance minister and the commerce minister, and an aide in his office. The finance minister defended the reforms on the floor of the house in Parliament.
Taxpayer-funded NPR mocks ‘CaPitAliSm,’ prompting calls to ‘defund’ media outlet
National Public Radio (NPR) ignited a social media firestorm Thursday night over a tweet that appears to mock capitalism, despite taxpayer dollars accounting for much of the organization’s annual budget.
The outlet posted a story titled “And Now, Crocs With Stiletto Heels” that explores a curious new collaboration between luxury fashion brand Balenciaga and Crocs, the rubber slipper company responsible for fashion faux pas among the millions of comfort-clinging owners nationwide.
The caption accompanying the article, which was written in both uppercase and lowercase letters, appears to mock the collaboration: “CaPitAliSm bReEds InNovAtiOn,” it reads.
The tweet’s language sparked outrage on social media, with figures like conservative Tim Young calling out the irony in NPR’s three-word post.
“You wouldn’t exist without capitalism, clown who is tweeting on behalf of NPR,” he wrote.
“Job at public news station wouldn’t exist wo capitalism,” another user echoed. “Are you guys ok?”
“Our tax money shouldn’t pay for this,” one person expressed.
“It’s still a hell of a lot better than communism at breeding innovation, even if some of the products are silly,” one woman fired back.