It is an easy thing to dismiss Ford Nation.
Here’s how Jeffery Simpson does it in the Globe and Mail: “[They and their leaders] prefer to lecture rather than reason, to posture as … the “people” against undefined but dangerous “elites,” and live in an intellectually self-contained world where curiosity is banished and slogans take the place of deliberation.”
And he goes on: they’re tough on crime, yet revel in the Mayor’s misdeeds. They vote for fiscal prudence, yet support his imprudent and expensive Scarborough subway. They insist on personal responsibility, but let their own off the hook.
To the elites, they are a mess of contradictions and political incorrectness. If he wasn’t an enemy of the state of Ford Nation before, he is now.
You can hear the disdain, even in pollsters’ numbers: they earn in the lower regions of the 99% and almost half don’t graduate high school. They’re young (18-34) or old (over 55), and they live to the north and east in Toronto and here and there in rural Ontario.
They account for 16% of Rob Ford’s support—and Tim Hudak’s and Stephen Harper’s.
Mike Harris, with his “Common Sense Revolution” was the first conservative to court them. Stephen Harper has made a science of them. Rob Ford is them.
Ford Nation loves it when their guys do things that aren’t elite-like: smoking crack cocaine for example, or squabbling with the liberal press, or being in contempt of Parliament. (Remember the Tory line? “It’s just the opposition playing politics.”)
Never mind their contrarieties. Ford Nation will stay strong as long as the PM disrespects Parliament and the Mayor fights City Hall.
But what will happen when the Nation figures out they’re being used? Not just used, but screwed, blued and tattooed.
I can hear my friend Dennis from here. “Whoa there buddy! You trying to tell us how to vote now?”
“No,” I say, “The Government has robo-calls for that.”
“Ahh, that’s just politics. You don’t have the sense God gave a hockey puck, do you? It’s business that creates jobs, not government. Government needs to get out of the way and conservatives do that best.”
Well my friend, that might have been true once. But the corporate fix is in. Reagan Republicans started getting government out of the way in the 1980s. And in 2008, workers mired in right-to-work-poor states watched as Wall Street took the bit in its teeth and ran away with the economy of the Western World.
Meanwhile, back home in Canada, Mr Harper doubled down on Mr Martin’s massive corporate tax cuts. Now we have the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7, most new jobs are part time, and companies in Canada have a stash of cash worth $600 billion.
What’s in your wallet, Dennis?
And do you know what business whispers into the perky ears of your current Finance Minister? “We want more of the same and screw the workers.”
The oil patch might be booming, but Ontario is not. Big oil and gas gets almost $3 billion a year in subsidies from the federal government. That’s helped create over 50,000 jobs out west and that’s a good thing. Except our high petro-dollar has sent some 140,000 manufacturing jobs AWOL.
Yes, there are jobs out there, but most are poor paying McJobs. The good, solid jobs that take workers into the middle class have gone south—literally.
Mr Harper had himself a nice photo-op at the Caterpillar plant in London, but he was MIA when the business gave 500 Ontario workers the bum’s rush and made off like a bandit for right-to-work-poor Indiana. Along with jobs, the company took all the R&D Canadians paid for through government “innovation” subsidies.
Who did the government blame? The workers, for wanting to hold on to their middle class wages.
Sort of reminds me—right down to blaming the unions—of the disappearing act Mr Fantino did on vets who wanted to talk to him about closing veterans’ offices. Ford Nation’s government is heavy on the gung-ho when it’s off to war we go. And every November 11, it wraps itself in flag and family to remember the dead. But there’s no remembering if you come back alive and hurting.
And yet, for all their contrariness and willingness to vote for ideology over their own interests, we must not dismiss Ford Nation. For its citizens carry the hard seed of those who came to Canada to fill this so-called “empty land”—gritty Presbyterian Scots and Catholic Irish forced out of their own homelands by the Clearances and the potato famines.
Righteous, rough and rebellious, with names like MacKenzie, McGee, and Macdonald, Murdoch, McLaren and Mann. A bloody-minded bunch they were, especially toward those who had a prior claim to the land.
Sure Canadians are courteous, in the old English and French sense of that word: courtly, truthful, skilled in diplomacy and debate.
But we are also hockey hardened SOBs who were first up the hill in two World Wars, kept the peace in Cyprus and fought the Taliban in the hairiest parts of Afghanistan.
So Dennis, this one’s for you. But please, come election day, take care where you mark your X.
© David McLaren, March 2014
A version of this article appeared in Sunmedia papers, April 12, 2014