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 Global Perspective

December 10, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 36

global perspective
Mary Jo Leddy is a member of the Romero House community in Toronto and the author of Radical Gratitude.



I am writing to report that the politics of fear has its limits. After eight years, the people looked at the bitter politics that they had participated in and said: Enough.

It does get better

By Mary Jo Leddy

TORONTO, Canada -- Like many other unrepentant leftists, I've continued walking along in the same direction -- but more slowly, increasingly bent over by blow after blow delivered by the neo-conservative agenda.

It has been the worst of times and seemed to be getting worse until this month.

What happened this fall in the province of Ontario and in the city of Toronto was something like a political miracle. The lame walked. Those whose hearts had been hardened by cynicism began to hope.

For eight years, the Conservative government of Ontario had played the politics of fear, pitting the interests of various groups against each other.

Other Global Perspectives by Mary Jo Leddy
Oct. 1, 2003 A northern revelation
July 30, 2003 Saved by ordinary decency
May 28, 2003 America Looks More Right
April 4, 2003 From the Edge of Empire: Living with Refugees from America
Immediately after being elected, the Conservatives cut payments to welfare recipients by 21 percent. The effect was immediate and shocking. For the refugees I live with at Romero House, it meant being hungry for the last week of every month. Pasta and peanut butter from the food bank became the standard menu at many meals.

Child poverty increased. Some debated how to define it, but I could describe what it looked and sounded like: A mother frantically calling in the middle of the night. A little Asian girl pink with fever, screaming in pain. After a few hours in the emergency ward, the hospital staff told us that the daughter had food poisoning. The peanut butter from the food bank had been rancid.

But (to paraphrase Martin Niemoeller) most people in Ontario were not poor, so they did not say anything. Then they came for the public servants, but most people did not work for the government, so they said nothing. And then they came for the teachers and then the nurses.

Slashing and burning taxes for the rich, the neo-cons weakened public services to the point of collapse. Immigrants were treated as liabilities more than as assets. Detention camps for refugees were on the drawing boards of government bureaucrats.

Slowly, so slowly we hardly noticed, taxpayers began to realize the cost of abandoning the public good: tainted water, overcrowded schools, dysfunctional hospitals, power blackouts, racial strife.

Sound familiar?

The city of Toronto was driven by the same agenda as the province. "The economy" became the faceless idol that demanded human sacrifice. The mayor fiddled while the city melted down. The homeless built cardboard villages on the lawns in front of churches; squatters took over vacant buildings, squeegee kids leaped out from every stoplight.

A few were laughing all the way to the bank.

I am writing to report that the politics of fear has its limits. After eight years, the people looked at the bitter politics that they had participated in and said ENOUGH.

The Ontario provincial election swept out the Conservatives and gave an overwhelming mandate to the Liberals. The Liberal leader, Dalton McGuinty, had consistently refused to engage in attack ads. He explicitly rejected the politics of division and appealed to a sense of decency and tolerance. The Socialist leader had run a campaign with the slogan "Public Power for the Public Good."

The ultimate low point, and the turning point, of the campaign came when a Conservative memo about the Liberal leader was leaked. It described Dalton McGuinty as "an evil reptilian kitty-eating alien from outer space"!!

Over the top! McGuinty's only response was that he liked kittens!

In the November election for the city of Toronto, the fiddling mayor was thrown out by a relatively unknown city councilor who had promised an end to back-room deals and a return to a politics of civility.

An unabashed leftist, he used a broom as his campaign symbol and ran the sign "Vinceremos" over his office. The vision of the city that he presented was that of his mentor Jane Jacobs, one of the more famous refugees from America who arrived during the Vietnam War. It is a vision in which economics is at the service of local communities, public space, sustainability and the environment.

In both campaigns, many people (who had never before been involved in politics) got off their couches, turned off the televisions that they had been shouting at, and got involved.

They said ENOUGH. There is another way.

I am writing to report, from north of the 49th parallel, that it does get better.

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