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Opinion: Politics would be better if it really made strange bedfellows

Anybody hoping for a regime change, if they’re being honest with themselves after watching provincial and riding debates, likely can’t say they saw evidence of a seismic shift in governance on the horizon.
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Voters and those who squander their democratic duty have had the opportunity to see major Ontario party leaders and most of the local Nipissing candidates debate past records and future intentions.

What valuable insights did we learn ahead of the provincial election just two weeks away? For those who were undecided, is the choice clearer on June 2? Did anybody glean enough new information to change their mind on who to support?

On Monday, TVO captured the essence of the democratic battle lines drawn between Conservative Doug Ford, New Democrat Andrea Horwath, Liberal Steven Del Duca and the Green Party’s Mike Schreiner. It was similar to their May 10 display on the Capitol Centre stage as they kicked around many of the issues faced by northern Ontario communities.

Anybody hoping for a regime change, if they’re being honest with themselves, likely can’t say they saw evidence of a seismic shift in governance on the horizon. The total lunar eclipse of the Flower Moon provided little gravitational pull. It actually looks like the stars are aligning for another four years of Tory majority with the big battle for second place with the Grits and NDP fighting for the right to be the official opposition.

Once again, Schreiner’s stock grew in comparison to his podium comrades, primarily for his more professional articulation and genuine passion, although it can only re-arrange the Titanic deck chairs spread across the left side of the PC ‘Get It Done’ platform.

Dreams of a minority government of any hue working with a rainbow coalition of interests evaporated with this undisputed jolt of reality: the NDP and Liberals can’t see beyond the wounds of past betrayals and seem determined to undermine each other. It’s a shame, really. Horwath, in my mind, is proving her detractors correct by failing to project the confidence of leadership the opportunity requires. And Del Duca would need a term as opposition leader to distance himself from his own political learning curve as a Liberal minister of transportation and economic development from 2014 to 2018. It must sting to fall short of the short shadow cast by Ford, who looked impressive for only a short time after the pandemic hit in March 2020 and then fell from grace as the roller coaster of viral waves lapped at the PC’s weakened foundations.

Each party, including the Cons, have strong points to offer but none can be trusted to keep every class of the overall constituency in mind. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Tories showed their hand in the first two years of their majority mandate won in 2018. Only a pandemic could stall or slow down a clear-cutting of environmental, health, education and working-class rights, benefits and protections.

Is it too late for the other parties to turn the tide or at least combine forces and win some leverage at Queen’s Park? I see no evidence for either outcome – although it would be nice to be wrong on that count. Those who object to a $10-billion stretch of controlled access highway bypassing Bradford might want to consider a Plan B for curtailment.

Also on Monday, YourTV provided the platform for four of the eight Nipissing riding candidates, including Conservative three-term MPP incumbent Vic Fedeli, New Democrat Erika Lougheed (East Ferris councillor), Liberal Tanya Vrebosch (North Bay deputy mayor) and the Green Party’s Sean McClocklin. The more minor party candidates were invited to submit pre-recorded messages with Michelle Lashbrook, Libertarian, taking advantage of the offer. Joe Jobin, Ontario Party, Taylor Russell, New Blue and Giacomo Vezina, None of the Above, did not.

Personally, I thought Lougheed, Vrebosch and McClocklin each gained a bit of traction for themselves and their respective parties as they focussed on putting Fedeli on the defensive for his role in how the Tories governed. I’ve never seen him so animated and charged up as he was while positioned between the NDP and Green perspectives.

Of course, Fedeli is an impressive orator who prepares well and has the savvy to highlight positives, avoid most pitfalls and sell Tory Kool-Aid to someone already drowning in choppy economic waters. Even Lougheed was left speechless at Fedeli delivering well-scripted theatre.

It’s no mystery why he skipped out on the PRIDE debate Friday night at Nipissing University, a predictable roast of all things wearing a yellow tie and the wrong kind of PC. The next time he’s a no-show at a debate or event, I’d love to sit in his vacant chair and spoof answers in his stead. It would be fun. As a trial run, I added some comments during the live-stream chat that mocked the right-leaning perspective on health care and other issues being raised:

“Our government is very interested in providing clear pathways to each person getting the privilege and freedom of purchasing their own health insurance and be able to choose whatever hospital they can afford, which is a liberty others don’t offer.”

On the province taking the Robinson-Huron Treaty Annuity court decision win for Indigenous communities (including Nipissing and Dokis), to the Supreme Court after losing on appeal: “As for the Indigenous issues, we’re only appealing the treaty ruling to make a show for our base and give more lawyers money to donate to us.”

On Bill 124 freezing pay increases at 1% for public workers such as nurses: “We’ll consider giving back the right to bargain but we need to get a concession first …”

Some would deride the sarcasm and cynicism but when all avenues to have an effective voice seem to have roadblocks in this first-past-the-post electoral circus, there’s a need for humour even if it’s a bit dark.

I predict Lougheed and Vrebosch, for the most part, will split most of the left-ish vote in Nipissing (yes, I know, the Liberals sometimes seem like Conservatives in sheep's clothing), leaving Fedeli with more room to drive around the pileup. Many of the soft votes between them would likely not want to disrupt the apparent economic boom in the making – with the province paving the way to rip up Mother Earth for the critical minerals needed to battery-power our way out of our carbonated climate change emergency. How all this activity won’t hasten the issue, I don’t understand, especially coupled with an additional massive electricity-convergence footprint yet to be measured.

The only thing standing in his way is a right-wing draw of extremely disenchanted ‘Freedom’ fighters who see the Ford regime as too far left. The Libs and NDPers should think about donating some of their campaign war chests to those on the far right, it might be more effective in the long run.

If only there was an election campaign “time out” button we could push so our politically inclined could get their act together and hammer out a long-term vision that makes sense.

Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to [email protected]. To contact the writer directly, email: [email protected] or check out his website