Friday, September 16, 2011

First We Take New Jersey ... Then On-tar-i-o! Tim Hudak's New Theme Song?

Martin Regg Cohn had an excellent column in the Star on Monday: Hudak’s taking Ontarians for a ride.

In it he questions the logistics of the Ontario Conservative's Changebook Platform. I perused that and it reminded me of another questionable platform. That of Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution.

For Ontarians with short memories or those not biting their nails to the quick and developing a nervous tremor at the mention of Mike Harris, maybe it's time for a little history lesson.

I don't need to tell you the damage that Harris did to this province, so will instead lay the foundation for the 1995 manifesto, that made no more sense, than the 2011 redux.

So grab a coffee and pull up a chair.

The 'Long' and the Short of it

One of the engineers of Ontario's so-called Common Sense Revolution, was Tom Long, former president of the Ontario Conservative party.  Long had worked on the campaign of Ronald Reagan and returned to his home and native land, to practice his recently acquired neoconservative skills.

His first big campaign was that of Kim Campbell.  If you're asking yourself Kim who (?), she took over the party leadership of the federal PCs, after Brian Mulroney stepped down, and led them to their disastrous showing in 1993, when they were reduced to two seats and lost official party status. (Soon to be gobbled up by the Reform-Alliance)

With the help of several Tory staffers, including John Baird, who was then working for the Campbell government, Long created several personal attacks on Jean Chrétien, including one making fun of his face (the result of Bell's Palsy), that turned the nation off.

Undaunted, Long then turned his attention to Ontario, while Baird went to work as a lobbyist.

Meanwhile Back in New Jersey

Then governor of New Jersey, Jim Florio, was reeling from a report, revealing that his state contained  five of the ten poorest cities in the United States, while also the home to some of the country's wealthiest citizens.

Access to education was considered to be one of the stumbling blocks for the poor, prompting a Supreme Court judgement, demanding that Florio raise billions in revenue to turn this around.

So he raised the income tax rate on the wealthiest and all hell broke loose.

His future Republican opponent, Christine Todd Whitman, helped to create Republicans for Responsible Government, organizing mass protests against this "Tax and Spend" Democrat.  One of their slogans.  How original.

Whitman, a former classmate of neocon guru, Steve Forbes (he handpicked her to run as Governor), then challenged Florio, running on a platform of "Common Sense".

Meanwhile Back in Ontario

Whitman's platform was drafted by Republican strategist, Mike Murphy, a friend of Tom Long's.  With wounds licked clean from the Campbell trouncing, he visited Murphy to discuss a new strategy for the next provincial election.

Soon after, the National Citizens Coalition, created Ontarians for Responsible Government, a carbon copy of Whitman's 'advocacy for the rich' group.  While Campbell's defeat was devastating for Long, the NCC were actually rejoicing.  They had spent $50,000 on the successful campaign of a newly minted Reform Party MP, who they knew would work for corporate interests.

His name:  Stephen Joseph Harper.

So while OFRG poured $560,000 into attack ads on NDP Premier Bob Rae, the "Whiz Kids" (including Tony Clement and Guy Giorno), also known as the "cut and paste" crew, copied Whitman's platform, which was highlighted by a promised 30% reduction in income tax rates.

In the 1996 Fall edition of Canadian Dimension, there was a piece by Jason Ziedenberg, entitled First, we'll take New Jersey: The real roots of common sense.  In it he says: 
In November, 1993, Tom Long, the former president of the Ontario Tories and manager of the last federal PC's campaign, went down to New Jersey to find out if the first shots in America's Republican revolution could echo up here  ... After organizing Kim Campbell's disastrous campaign, Long needed a good idea to redeem his name as political king-maker. What Long found in New Jersey wasn't a good idea; but he did find the raison d'etre for Canadian neoconservatism in the 1990s.

That November, against the conventional wisdom of American pundits and pollsters, Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Todd Whitman narrowly defeated Democratic Governor Jim Florio

Few knew that Long and Murphy's friendship would produce Ontario's "made in New Jersey" nightmare. (1)
Monkey See, Monkey Do

Los Angeles Times staff writer, Craig Turner, also wrote of the Ontario/Republican connection, instead comparing Harris to Newt Gingrich.
There is more at work here than the tendency of some Canadians to seek a dark cloud behind every silver lining.  The debate reflects the ongoing controversy over Ontario Premier Mike Harris' political and economic agenda, which reminds many of the approach of the U.S. Republicans, especially House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Harris was elected last June on promises to eliminate the province's burgeoning budget deficit and cut income tax rates by 30%. His enthusiastic budget-slashing--particularly when targeted on the poor, as in a 21.6% reduction in welfare grants--quickly earned him the nickname "Newt of the North," a sobriquet seized on by both admirers and detractors.

Harris' knife has cut a wide swath, leading to $5.88 billion in spending reductions over the next three years. As a result, tuition has risen 15% to 20% at most universities. Dozens of public hospitals are expected to close or consolidate. The cost of prescription medicine in the government-funded health care system is increasing for the elderly. Fares on the Toronto transit system are among the highest on the continent. More than 10,000 of the province's 81,000 government jobs are marked for elimination. (2)
What Turner may not have realized, was that Reform Party leader, Preston Manning, had played a role in Gingrich's 1994 victory.  The same Preston Manning who worked on Harris's campaign, even using their Ontario riding associations to give the budding Neocons a boost.

However, this "Newt of the North" was more of a "Whitman of the North", as he not only copied her platform, but also her actions.   Let's compare.

Back to Ziedenberg:
Whitman has spent the last three years cutting and fudging the state budget of $16 billion (US) to find the $1.2 billion needed to deliver her tax cut. She saved $26 million by robbing 30,000 senior citizens of their subsidized drug benefit plan. Twelve hundred of the state's 60,000 public sector workers were given their pink slips: Of the first 744 people to lose their jobs, 75 per cent of them were women, and 44 per cent were minorities. State aid to most school boards has been frozen. Trenton's Education Law Centre, a New Jersey public interest legal research group, is pressing the state courts to force Whitman to increase aid to poor schools by $400 million to fulfil commitments made by Gov. Florio. But under her tight-fisted, tax-cut induced budget priorities, no one knows where this money could come from. As well, tuition at New Jersey's public universities will rise by between 10 to 30 per cent.  (1)
Whitman introduced "Workfare", calling it "tough love", and holy cow if Harris didn't lap at her heels with his own tough love.

On May 31, 1995; Mike Harris told the Toronto Star "If I don't live up to anything that I have promised to do and committed to do, I will resign."  After promising not to reduce money for healthcare or reduce welfare benefits (page 7 of the Common Sense Revolution), he failed to keep his promise to step down.

Tim Hudak is now telling the Star pretty much the same thing, but how can we believe him?  He's learned from the master.

Canada's Neoconservatives like to think they're so clever, with their "new" ideas.  But there is nothing clever, nothing revolutionary, and nothing "new".  Every word and action comes from their American counterparts, who with the help of the corporate funded Tea Party and demonic Religious Right, have destroyed politics in the United States.
Ah you loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win

You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin (
Leonard Cohen: First we Take Manhattan, Then We'll Take Berlin)
First I took New Jersey.  But not On-tar-i-o (Tim Hudak's Swan Song)

To fellow Leonard Cohen fans, enjoy the video.  It will help take your mind off the rash you're developing, symptom of the Fear of Harris Lapdog Syndrome.  You won't get the song out of your head, but at least the itching will subside.


1. First, we'll take New Jersey: The real roots of common sense, By Jason Ziedenberg, The Canadian Dimension, Sept/Oct 1996

2. CANADA : Ontario Gets a Tax Break, By Craig Turner, The Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1996

1 comment:

  1. Emily, this blog article is post dated Friday, September 16, 2011, yet whenst I then follow the very 1st link in the article, "Hudak’s taking Ontarians for a ride", it's dated' The Star Monday, May 12, 2014' ... Is the date/time on your computer and/or blogging software set incorrectly ?

    cheers Ole.