Social media has transformed political campaigning in the U.S. and in Canada. So perhaps it’s no surprise to find Ontario politicians glomming on to social media themes in a frenzied attempt to make certain outmoded concepts as hip and cool as that Fonzie character all the young people are talking about.
Which is no doubt why, in the lead-up to an Ontario election, we've been treated to a new generation of Mike Harris disciples pulling out earlier drafts of the Common Sense Revolution, dusting them off and reintroducing them as the policy mash-up equivalent of an i-pad and skinny jeans.
I'm speaking, of course, of a certain true-blue platform — one that cuts and pastes "haven't I heard this somewhere before" commonsense-y rhetoric into a campaign document, adds a few tech-y flourishes, a handful of creatively-rendered (if mathematically questionable) bar graphs, and calls it...
Well, changebookTM, to be precise. (Get it? Like facebook! OMG — like!)
(Haven’t you heard? It’s totally trending on Twitter!)
changebookTM is about change (and not just because it abides by the "thou shalt use the word 'change' a minimum of twice on each page to ensure maximum exposure of the concept to the voters" rule).
But changebookTM isn't just changing vocabulary. It's changing punctuation too, because an enterprising Tory staffer realized all it takes to lose the hipster vote you're trying to woo is a misplaced colon (or, apparently, a capitalized title). So just check out the square parentheses used throughout the document; not those lame round ones that elitists and socialists prefer. And the deliberately random use of the number sign? As in hashtags? Snap!
Charts and tables—artfully photoshopped—for that science-y validation? A diagram that uses bubbles—oddly sized, as if to make an ideological point rather than one grounded in reality or, you know, geometry—to prove the over-tax-ness burdening Ontarians? You betcha!
changebookTM will change up how we do business in Ontario. And you know what really needs to be protected in this uncertain climate? The unemployed? Children? The working poor? You're not thinking change-y enough. Give up? Small businesses are people too (well, sort of) and deserve their very own Bill of Rights. And that's what changebookTM will give them.
changebookTM will put an end to war, too: the "war on the car," that is. Clearly the war on poverty has already been won since it isn't included in changebookTM. Come to think of it, neither is homelessness. Or inequality. But, hey, that's the way they roll in changebookTM: so start your engines!
changebookTM tells us what change is all about: cutting taxes, more money in your pocket, accountability in government, less public sector "waste". But it all sounds eerily...retro (in an "I can't believe M.C. Hammer pants are back—even he learned from that mistake" kind of way). In fact, once you uninstall the square brackets and the airbrushed charts and cartoon-like graphs and the excessive use of the word "change," changebookTM sounds remarkably un-change-y.
In fact, it sounds more like changeback (trademark pending).
Back to government policies that overtly blame the poor and the marginalized for their "bad choices". Back to campaign promises based on bashing teachers, nurses, and unions in the name of "system accountability" and "eliminating waste". Back to the rhetoric of workfare. Back to (more!) tax cut fetishism.
It’s an ideological flashback that, like Hammer pants, was a bad idea the first time around (confirmed by a quick glance in the rear view mirror).
The very capable and talented Jim Stanford (hi, Jim!) has painstakingly documented how changebookTM’s liberal (so to speak) use of creative geometry and mathematics is deceptive, to say the least. Could this self-declared government-in-waiting be labouring (no pun intended) under the (mis)understanding that there would be no math in a changebookTM-ified Ontario? This is disturbing, considering that the Ontario provincial government is in charge of a $100 billion budget; surely some math would be required.
With the Ontario election now in full swing, changebookTM's luster seems to be waning— after leading in the polls for months, it appears that, for women voters in particular, familiarity is beginning to breed "meh" where Tim Hudak is concerned. Recent polling has the race between Liberals and Conservatives tightening, with provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath's popularity on the rise.
But really, is it any wonder? After all, changebookTM isn't innovative. Or groundbreaking. And it's certainly not unprecedented; we've been down this road before — and we're hurtling along it on the federal stage. When it comes to these so-called "new" policy directions, we know what to expect.
And for Ontarians it's clearly a déjà screw.
Erika Shaker directs the Education Project at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
(An earlier version of this post appeared on Rabble.ca.)