An abridged version of this article appeared in the Ottawa Citizen (June 8, 2022).
Well, there it goes. The 2022 Ontario general election comes to a close and, after a record low voter turnout, Ontario has been saddled again with a Progressive Conservative (PC) majority government. I can’t pretend that I am not deeply disappointed and concerned about Ontario’s future, but this setback has only encouraged me in the fight against Doug Ford and his administration of grifters, swindlers, and snake-oil salesmen.
I went into this race with zero experience running an election campaign and zero expectations of winning. I also went into this race with a budget closer to g-string than shoestring, which further tempered any expectations of real success.
With victory a pipe-dream, running felt like a low-stakes opportunity to get involved in the democratic process and make my voice heard on a number of issues which I feel are deeply important—such as the province’s abysmal record on combatting climate change, the urgent need for police and justice reform to combat systemic racism, and the critical importance of electoral reform (need I remind you that Ford’s second PC majority was elected with only 40% of the popular vote?).
When I cracked my eyes open on June 3rd, it was an honest surprise to discover I had amassed 82 votes in spite of my novice election campaign. It’s a far cry from the votes necessary to win the riding, but it was more than I was expecting as a newcomer and political nobody. If permitted, I’d show my appreciation to each of these intrepid voters by smooching their foreheads, one-by-one.
I want to offer my sincere congratulations to Joel Harden, who won our riding—Ottawa Centre—with over 30,000 votes. Joel is the epitome of a community leader, and I’m comforted knowing he will be my representative in Queen’s Park for the next four years. If the Ontario NDP is looking for a new leader who is capable of motivating the electorate, Joel is an incomparable candidate.
As I reflect on my experience, I realize I’ve learned quite a few things which I hope will be useful in any future campaigns. By far the most important lesson I learned as a political candidate is this: nobody cares about you!
Nobody Cares About You!
Well, specifically, nobody cares about you unless you’re a candidate for one of the main parties —i.e. Conservative, Green, Liberal, or NDP.
I’ve often heard folks encouraging more young people to take action by running for public office and being the change they want to see in the world. But the truth is that if you want to realistically make a difference, especially in our political system, you’ll first have to wine and dine a big political party and secure their nomination. Otherwise you’re just another fringe nobody trying to edge in on a very crowded trough.
Case in point: there I was, lips tucked up to the gums in excitement for my first live appearance during the 2022 election campaign. My stomach was in knots, yet my eyes were brimming with excitement—or tears from having plucked my unibrow out of existence in preparation for being seen.
I was getting ready for a debate between the Ottawa Centre candidates organized by a local community group. Not only were there going to be up to five hundred interested voters viewing this tête-à-tête between candidates, but it was going to be broadcast and available for playback on Facebook of all places. Misinformation seems to do well on there, so why can’t Thomas?
I had been invited the week prior and given the itinerary in advance. I studied it meticulously, nervous at the prospect of my first time putting on the mantle of “candidate” and trying to convince the local community why they should trust their precious vote to me—a 6’3” giant with two eyebrows. After all, without the trimmings of a party candidate, I worry that independents can come across as fringe nut-jobs trying to disturb the status quo. Am I that?
I studied the other parties’ platforms and hammered out my opening and closing statements. I didn’t see this simply as an opportunity to test my own strength as a candidate, but to spar with my fellow candidates on their respective platform commitments.
I wanted to probe Katie Gibbs, Liberal candidate, about her party’s commitment to a region-based minimum wage, which some have criticized as entrenching and reinforcing structural and systemic racism.
I also wanted to press Joel Harden, NDP candidate, on his party’s commitment to electoral reform. After the Liberals halfheartedly pursued and then botched electoral reform in 2007, the NDP will forgive me for withholding my trust. Once bitten, twice shy. If in the future a political party wants to take electoral reform seriously, it will ensure that its commitments include providing sufficient time and resources to both a Citizen’s Assembly and Elections Ontario to adequately educate Ontarians about electoral reform prior to any referendum.
Now, it was the eve’ before the debate when I heard the fateful chime from my computer’s mail application. It was an e-mail from the community group organizing the debate. I opened it hurriedly, expecting to read some technical or administrative note that would be integral to my accessing the group video call. I would hate to have tech problems on the day-of which would make me look—gulp—unprofessional!
Well, the e-mail didn’t contain any such instructions. Instead, I was provided with a new itinerary in which the event would be limited to “main party candidates.”
Gasp! I had been uninvited! If this were an Edwardian era period-piece, I may have been tempted to retreat to my fainting couch or hatch some diabolical plot in which I destroyed the social status of my foes.
But upon closer reading, I realized that I hadn’t been uninvited from the entire event—just its main component: the debate. Rest assured, the other non-main party candidates and I were promised two minutes towards the end of the two-hour event to give our respective spiels. According to my calculation, that would be at approximately 8:50PM, by which time I assume most attendees would have shut their laptops and eyelids, and bidden the day adieu.
I inquired for an explanation as to the change of schedule, but none was provided. I presume that it simply made sense for the debate to be limited to the main candidates. After all, independents rarely win out over party candidates. The organizers were likely trimming the fat by removing the likes of me, allowing voters watching the debate to have an easier time choosing whom amongst the pool of probable winners to vote for.
At the end of the day, I understand why the decision was made, but it feels wrong. Not only because I spent countless hours preparing and plucking, but because this type of thinking leads us further from a democracy and closer to a particracy, where we allow the parties to make decisions instead of citizens. Political parties are important instruments for coordinating political will and action, but our democratic institutions should not work to serve them and promote their interests.
And no, a particracy is not where our Premier does keg stands and the Lieutenant Governor hosts a wet t-shirt contest—but then again, with the Ford government, you never know.
Now that we’ve been stuck with another PC government for the next four years, we have our work cut out for us.
In the time between now and the next provincial election, we must continue to raise hell and demand accountability from our provincial government. We must put the spotlight on the provincial government’s response to the climate crisis, its attempts to dismantle our public healthcare system, and the need for meaningful police accountability and justice reform.
Ford’s PC government has failed Ontario for the last four years, and it will continue to fail Ontario unless we take action to hold it accountable.
Although this latest election’s record-low voter turnout may leave some feeling apathetic about the chance of progressive change in Ontario, I’ll leave you with my favourite cliche: it is always darkest before the dawn.
The fight must continue, but rest assured I will be there, fighting with you.
To stay in touch, please visit thomasborcsok.ca