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"Boycott the Elections" rally held in Toronto

by Michael Romandel

PRAC and RSM at May Day 2014
PRAC and RSM at May Day 2014

“We actually think that the majority of people in Canada have acknowledged that this is a system that is not worth their time, that it’s not a system that represents them, and that especially goes for working class people and people of colour,” said Randy of the Revolutionary Student Movement (RSM), one of the organizations supporting the Boycott the Elections campaign.  Randy was one of the supporters in attendance at a small Boycott the Elections rally held in Moss Park in east downtown Toronto on Ontario election day, June 12th, 2014, at 4pm.  At the rally, members of the RSM, Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee (PRAC) and other associated groups came out to show their support for their Boycott the Elections campaign and get some attention for the politics associated with it among local residents and passers by in this working class area of Toronto at a park that also serves as an important hangout spot for the street-involved and homeless poor.  The rally had a very relaxed atmosphere, with most attendees focusing on handing out leaflets that stated “No Matter Who Wins, the Working Class Loses” in bold letters on the cover, and having conversations with passers by, some of whom were very sympathetic to the politics represented by those in attendance. 

One passer-by who had just voted for the Liberals, who received the majority of votes in the Toronto Centre riding in which the rally took place, expressed regret for voting Liberal earlier that day when speaking with boycott supporters.  In this Ontario election, it seems there were many who voted Liberal ‘strategically’ because of the fear around Progressive Conservative (PC) leader Tim Hudak’s plans to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, cut corporate tax rates and generally do everything in his power to lower the quality of life and political power of working class people in Ontario for the benefit of the wealthy. A large part of the reason why many voted this way was due to most the of the major labour unions in the province openly supporting a strategic voting strategy in which staff and members would support, canvass and vote for whoever is most likely to beat the PCs in a particular riding, whether they be from the NDP or the Liberals. The Liberals also benefited a great deal from the unpopularity of Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath among NDP supporters, particularly due to the rightward shift the ONDP has made under her tenure despite an initial promise she made when first elected leader to not ‘check her socialism at the door’.  It seems that many saw the rightward shift of the ONDP as eliminating most of the substantive policy differences between them and the Liberal Party, causing many NDP supporters or regular NDP voters to vote Liberal this time around. 

At the boycott rally, participants used some interesting and amusing chants to highlight the real lack of options for the working class in this election in particular and in most elections in general.  One of these was “Hudak, Horwath, Wynne; throw them in the garbage bin.”  Despite the media circus around this election and the fear of the Hudak boogieman pushed by unions, the Liberal Party and Torstar Corporation publications (including the Toronto Star and Metro) to mobilize people, only 52.1% of eligible voters actually voted, which was actually a reversal of two decades of consistently declining voter turnout.  The very modest increase of about 4% in voter participation only brings us back to the level of the 2007 Ontario election and is far lower than the voter turnout before the great decline of the last two decades, with the turnout in 1990 being 64.4 percent.  Based on the actual choices of Ontarians at election time, it seems that more and more Ontarians have been figuratively throwing all the candidates in the garbage bin for some time now.  One of the interesting things about this trend is that it has coincided with the rise of neo-liberalism as a policy norm across all parties in Ontario as well as the decline of unionized manufacturing plants due to outsourcing to non-unionized shops both internally and externally.  What these coinciding trends show is that the decline in voter turnout may actually be directly linked to the declining lack of real options for working class people to represent their interests in elections and in society in general.

Randy of RSM and those from the other affiliated organizations in support of the boycott campaign view the trends of declining voter turnout as a “boycott that is already happening, if more than half of the people are not voting.”  They believe that we need to “take this passive boycott that is already happening, and turn that into an active boycott, so turn that into actual active resistance, which is why we’ve been doing panels, street outreach and this rally here in Moss Park talking to people about the reasons why they’re not voting and what they actually want to see and how we can change our economic system to one that is just where the wealth created by society is shared by the majority of society.” 

This raises the question of what such actual active resistance would look like and how those most alienated by our current political and economic system could get involved in it in a way that actually benefits them.  While Democracy Watch was able to use a provision in the Ontario Elections Act to push Elections Ontario to advertise the fact that people had a right to decline their ballots and vote against all candidates rather than simply spoiling them or not marking a box, with this election seeing the first rise in the percentage of declined ballots since the 1990 Ontario election; Randy and the organizers of the Boycott rally believe that “the correct line is to not vote at all” rather than spoiling your ballot or declining your vote.  However, this doesn’t mean they believe people should shun political involvement or focus all their political involvement on organizing election boycotts, but rather that some alternative to what we currently think of as politics must be developed.  Randy believes that we “have to build that alternative…we have to create revolutionary organizations, revolutionary community groups, women’s groups, student groups for various reasons, first of all because this is the only way we can eventually overthrow capitalism, but also because the parties, even the NDP anymore, are not serving the needs of the working class.  Even for those reforms that we need in the meantime, we need to create our own organizations, our own political and community organizations that fight for the interests of the those most exploited and oppressed in our society.”

Even among many of those progressives and revolutionaries who voted in the recent Ontario election, Randy’s point about the need to build strong working class organizations outside of and in opposition to all the major political parties is coming to be slowly accepted, as it has become fairly clear to progressives that all the major parties in Ontario stand structurally against the interests of the working class and will implement policies that openly attack us when they are in power.  The boycott campaign slogan of “No Matter Who Wins, the Working Class Loses” is coming to be accepted by a large number of progressives as a truth, even if they voted in the recent election for the NDP or Liberals with the hope that their attacks will be slower and less violent and the PCs.  While boycott campaigns by relatively small militant groups remain unlikely to get masses of people to actually boycott elections, what they have done in Ontario is spur on a serious debate on the left on the merits of voting and help people to recognize the anti-working class nature of all the major parties among those not stubbornly invested in the New Democratic Party for various historical, personal and organizational reasons. 

Katie Berger, a food activist who stumbled upon the boycott rally while walking down Queen Street, believes that although a boycott would be the “the only thing to do based on what I believe in”, still thinks that voting for a party that will cut services or worsen our quality of life slower than another one “can give us more time to respond and create some breathing space in which we can actually build.” 


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