Freaky Friday, political-style: voting in the Ontario provincial election

May 30th, 2022 by Celia Chandler

Politicians who ‘get things done’ are good at doing bad things. But that might be the reason they get re-elected.

Currently York South-Weston is represented federally by Liberal, Ahmed Hussen, the first Somali federally-elected politician and current Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion. Credit: Micheal Swan / Flickr

“So, why do you support him?” I longed to ask the three young, white, able-bodied men, as I walked down the street.

Even without their blue leaflets, they look like stereotypical Ford supporters. They have the swagger of people who’ve never felt the sting of discrimination because of their colour or accent; who’ve never gone hungry; who’ve never wondered how they’d make rent; and who know they will secure well-paying jobs that will afford them houses in neighbourhoods with good schools, brew-pubs, and upscale coffee shops.

Not this neighbourhood.

Race, class a big factor in this riding

This is York South-Weston, in the heart of one of Toronto’s 13 ‘priority neighbourhoods.’ Its average household annual income is two third’s of Toronto’s. Twice as many people are on social assistance compared to the rest of Toronto.

Immigrants comprise five percent more of the population than the Toronto average. About five per cent of the population speak Spanish at home compared to three percent in rest of the city. People born in Somalia make up one and a half per cent of the total population.

That last statistic is significant. Currently York South-Weston is represented federally by Liberal, Ahmad Hussen, the first Somali federally-elected politician and current Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion. Provincially it’s represented by Faisal Hassan, a New Democrat who is seeking re-election.

In the decade I’ve lived here, it’s oscillated federally and provincially from NDP to Liberal. Voting conservative here is uncommon but Doug Ford and his staunch supporters, known as Ford Nation, have some appeal both here and in surrounding ridings. Macleans and NOW Magazine have written on how Ford’s supporters have managed to pull votes from racialized communities, and in particular, from the Somali community. This election, another member of the Ford clan, City Councillor Michael Ford, and nephew of Doug and the infamous former mayor Rob Ford, is running in York South-Weston.

The pocket of the riding where I’m walking is predominantly white and Hispanic. Ford cannot count on his sway with the Somali community here, yet the boys in blue are working hard to sway voters.

Caring about current and future generations

I’m still curious about their answer to my question: ‘Why do you support him?’

“Because he cares about the people,” they’d respond. “He’s going to ‘get it done’!” they’d triumphantly parrot the current Progressive Conservative (PC) slogan. I imagined them replying with their cheerful, innocent frat-boy good looks, early evening sun glinting off their perfect teeth. No masks for these lads, as they walk up patched asphalt driveways.

They’re hoping they’ll catch the shift workers and cab drivers at home, or to leave their campaign literature in mailboxes or with 11-year-old children in charge of siblings while their parents are at their second jobs or picking up groceries at No Frills.

I want to scream at them: shouldn’t we worry about the future? Climate change? For that matter, aren’t you worried about the floods in this very neighbourhood that get worse year over year as we keep getting storms of a lifetime?

For them caring looks different: “We’re cutting the gas tax! And the sticker!  And the new highway will get them to work faster!” they’d assert.

I haven’t the heart to break it to them that many in this neighbourhood don’t own cars.

If PC campaigners were strategic, they’d ask me why I wouldn’t want to vote PC too.  They’d be right. I am part of their target demographic.

Voting for the things promised by their leader would objectively make sense for me. I’m a middle aged, white, well-educated, professional woman. I own my house allowing me to manage the increasing cost of living. I have no particular worry about the future of the planet; with no kids, my genes will die with me.

I can personally afford to weather the impacts of climate change. If anyone should be swaggering down the street, it should be me.

Instead, as I walk my neighbourhood, I worry about the blue signs popping up faster than May dandelions, but seemingly much more welcome.

Contemplating why we vote against our self-interest

The nurse up the street has a blue sign on their lawn. Yet, Bill 124, passed by the Ford government in 2019, has long-lasting damaging effects nurses and and other health-care professionals. Houses with basement suites have them too. The creators of those blue sign have decimated the Landlord and Tenant Board by failing to fill vacancies, creating delays of more than a year.

Even the couple who wheel around the neighbourhood in their matching mobility scooters, three dogs sitting on the platform, are rooting for Ford. He who overlooked Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) in the April 28 budget but nonetheless promises to hike the monthly payments by five percent if elected (inflation is at almost seven percent).

Beyond my streets, and perhaps most troubling, unions like the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers are lining up on the blue line. Granted, the bigger unions, and the Ontario Federation of Labour are firmly in camp NDP, but the movement to the right of unions is worrying, and confusing.

“He does what he says he’s going to do,” is what I often hear.

It begs the question: “If someone says he’s going to do a bad thing, and then he does it, is that better than someone who says he’s going to do a good thing and then doesn’t quite accomplish it?”

I’d rather support someone who would prefer to do the right thing and gets caught short on the logistics.

“Do you want to pay more taxes?” is a question I often get asked. “Yes!” I want to scream, however crazy it may seem.

If it means others get to live a better life and contribute to society, I’m all for it. I’m reminded of my father who upon hearing of people working to evade taxes, he’d say with disgust, ‘do I have to run this country myself?’ Like dad, I want someone smarter than I am with the power of great policy advisors behind them to decide how money should be spent to move closer to an equitable society.

I’m sure there are people working away in the bowels of university political science departments analysing opinion data to determine what causes these rifts. It’s the same phenomenon responsible for many attitudes towards masking and vaccinations – ‘I don’t care about the old and the vulnerable. I’ll be fine if I get COVID.’

We’ve lost the sense of caring for the greater good and we’ve done so at a dangerous time as we may have already passed the point of no return on the climate crisis. Meanwhile, back in my pocket of York‑South Weston, it’s Freaky Friday. I’ll vote as though I’m in the body of a health care worker or a teacher and they’ll vote the other way.

It’s only those nice boys with blue pamphlets who are true to themselves as they work hard to turn an orange riding blue as to get another Ford – Michael – elected to Queens Park.

But none of them even live in our riding.

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