I’m so, so tired of governments run by right wing authoritarian morons.
Many years ago, now, Ontario suffered under the Premiership of a Conservative named Mike Harris, a bland, dour, rather dim, pro-business, semi-populist politician who was probably manufactured in the same right wing stooge factory that cranked out George W. Bush (I think there’s a plant in Iowa or somewhere like that). His government ushered in what he called the Common Sense Revolution, and I’ve always delighted in referring to his time in office as the “reign of Meathead Mike and his Common Sense Revolutionaries”. He was a lot like the Republicans of the period, vowing to cut taxes, balance budgets, slash regulations and create a business-friendly environment (he succeeded at slashing regulations), and one thing he really, really disliked was organized labour. Unions were Bad for Business. They demanded outrageous concessions from their employers, like a living wage and a safe working environment, driving up production costs and gumming up the arteries of the capitalist economy when they didn’t get their way, and had the temerity to go on strike.
We lived in a condo tower back then, in downtown Toronto, and across the street was a big advertising billboard of the sort that blights so many urban environments these days. I went out my door one morning to find the advertising space rented by the Conservative Party, which posted an emphatic denunciation of “Union Bosses” and their lazy, entitled ways, pretty typical of the Conservative message machine, both then and now. Except it wasn’t a Conservative Party message. In the corner was the trillium logo of the Provincial Government. Mike Harris was using tax dollars to fund his political campaign to vilify a segment of the Ontario citizenry. I was helping to pay for anti-union propaganda, a purely partisan political message I didn’t wish to send, and so were all those unionized workers, who probably didn’t want to send it either.
At the time, I seemed to be the only one who was royally pissed off. I never saw anything about it in the media. Nowadays, the line having been crossed without consequence, governments of every stripe do this sort of thing all the time, largely without comment, save that the party out of power sometimes complains when the governing party does it. The tax-funded partisan campaign ad is just part of the modern political landscape. Nobody cares.
Well, in Ontario this sort of thing is now crossing another, more important line, and I hope people do start caring, a lot.
The bad actor this time around is our own Doug Ford, whose quintessentially dumb-assed (and thus successful) campaign for Premier promised the good folks of Ontario two wonderful things: cheap gas, and cheap booze. Just what the rubes wanted, he figured, guaranteed winners, and he did indeed win. That left him with a couple of improbable campaign pledges to keep, but that was all right; Douggie figured he could deliver. He planned to come through on the booze by making it legal to sell beer for a buck a bottle, apparently unaware that his fellow capitalists would not, despite his permission, sell their products at a loss. The cheap gas would spring from his elimination of a modest carbon tax that the hated Liberals had instituted in those dark days when Ontario was run by a lesbian. Nobody told Douggie that if he did this, a more or less equivalent federal tax would be imposed under a backstop legislated by the Trudeau government.
Well! There went those promises! Doug tried to use public money to bribe the breweries to play along and sell something, anything, for a dollar, but they wouldn’t go for it, making him look stupid, and with that promise blown he’s all the more desperate to assure the public that it isn’t his fault if gas prices didn’t go down. It’s those bastards in Ottawa! The socialist pansies want to do something to “save the environment”, as if that’s a priority! Yeah, right, like innocent people gassing up their SUVs and F-150s should be made to suffer to combat “global warming”, whatever that is! Boo! Hiss! The people have a right to know, and must be told, over and over!
With his young government now dropping in the polls, Douggie’s doubly determined to lay the blame where it belongs, and he knows just how to get the message out, too. At the pumps! He’ll make gas stations post stickers complaining about the federal tax, so the hard working drivers of Ontario can become incensed at the Liberals every time they have to fill ‘er up. Genius, yes? No doubt cackling with glee, Doug is arranging for this requirement to become law under something called the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act. Hefty fines await those who fail to comply, and thus will the truth be promulgated. Doug to Ontario motorists: listen, it’s federal. It’s not me whose screwing you. It’s that peckerwood Justin.
Using public money to rent billboards blasting out his party propaganda wasn’t ham-fisted enough. Doug’s going to force private citizens to post his idiotic message on their own property, and woe to them if they refuse.
In the Trump era, one tends to measure every outrage against the gold standard established by The Donald, and compared to, say, telling women of colour to go back where they came from (Detroit and the Bronx, it turns out), forcing businesses to post these stickers may seem like pretty small potatoes. Yet this abuse of power, designed to save Douggie’s bacon while helping the federal Conservatives beat Trudeau in the fall election, is a troubling sign of American-style right wing rot setting in. Governments may have every right to require businesses to display certain messages, when they’re relevant to the locale, and merely articulate public policy – though I can’t cite any examples off the top of my head – but this isn’t public policy. It’s party politics, pure and simple, and Doug may as well be forcing people to put “Vote Conservative” signs on their front lawns. It’s bullying, undemocratic, and blatantly transgressive of important norms, and if there was any justice this sort of compelled political speech would be quashed by the Courts as a Charter violation. We’re supposed to be guaranteed freedom of expression, right? Forcing us to bark party propaganda like trained seals violates that guarantee, doesn’t it? The Courts should strike it down. They should nip this shit in the bud.
Maybe they will, though maybe then Doug will invoke our Charter’s heinous “Notwithstanding” clause, as he threatened during his legislative bullying of Toronto City Council, while seeking revenge for how mean everybody was to brother Rob when he was Mayor. Sadly, he gets to do that. It might come with a political price, though.
Meanwhile, if the Courts can’t save us, my advice to the gas stations is to go ahead and post Doug’s frickin propaganda, only right above stickers of their own, which I hope some entrepreneur will cook up for them: