During the recent municipal elections in Toronto a number of right wing candidates attacked as being elitist those that support unions and environmental issues, who oppose homophobia, who advocate for inclusive neighbourhoods that include affordable housing and, in general, can be described as progressive. I’m one of these people.
As a further sign of being an elitist, if my politics weren’t enough, I also need to work for a living. Being able to give away a salary of $100,000 is just not something I can easily comprehend. However, it seems from a right wing populist perspective being able to give away a salary earned by working for the people of Toronto as a city councillor doesn’t make one part of the elite, as the newly elected anti-elitist Doug Ford plans to do.
One of the great reform movements of the 19th century in England was the Chartist movement. It pushed for radical democratic reforms, including the very radical idea of “Payment of members, thus enabling an honest tradesman, working man, or other person, to serve a constituency, when taken from his business to attend to the interests of the Country.” Paying the salaries of elected officials meant that holding a position was no longer restricted to those of wealth, but were opened to those who were dependent on their own efforts to earn a living.
Doug Ford’s actions seem to be a part of an ongoing effort by right wing populists to undermine generations of initiatives that help to hold politicians accountable to the electorate and to encourage true grassroots initiatives, efforts that range from attacks on electoral financing reform that attempt to level the playing field for those seeking office to inspiring nimbyism in efforts to undermine progressive officials to attack ads that inflame social divisions. It is a new direction in our local politics and is frightening. It mirrors the successful attack on the national coalition supported by the majority of MPs but undermined by Harper and the Governor-General of the time. As a member of the elite (i.e. idealist working class, faith-based activist), I fear that we are facing even darker times than during the Harris years.