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Dodich: Ontario NDP Platform Filled With Little Progressive Substance

September 12, 2011

Well before the writ had dropped, the Ontario NDP had released the bulk of their platform. While this was far from a complete plan (there were 0 announcements about education), it included a few ‘progressive staples’ that are found consistently in both federal and provincial NDP platforms: higher corporate taxes, stronger public pensions, support of labour unions, a greater emphasis on public transit, and a nod to some sort of a return to a public power company. Beyond that however, the platform was surprisingly devoid of policies typical of those on the centre-left. Instead, the focus of the platform is tax cuts, with the goal being to make life more affordable.  These vote-buying policies are of real concern, as they show how progressive parties have succumbed to many right-wing ideas in order to win elections, as opposed to fighting for and campaigning on the notion that government can be a force for good in society.

The NDP is unique in the fact that while their party consists of those that sit on the left of the Canadian political spectrum, they also bring in many different groups from different areas. Activists flock to the NDP, who consistently place ideology over populism. Not so this time, where the Ontario NDP have decided to target people’s wallets over their hearts and minds. They promise relief from the HST in the areas of the hydro, heating and even knocking 4% of the HST off of gas. This plan risks losing the NDP their base of progressives, especially environmentalists, to a Liberal party that is ever more relying on its progressive policies on education, healthcare and the environment to maintain support. Mixed in are policies that sound appealing, yet make little sense in the real world. Cars must not come within a metre of cyclists? Try attempting that in rush-hour traffic, downtown Toronto. Horwath’s own campaign bus broke this rule on the campaign trail, as ruthlessly exploited by the other parties. Secondly, the NDP propose to place a moratorium on nuclear energy, and ridding Ontario of coal plants faster than proposed by the current government. How will they make up the demand for energy? By finding inefficiencies in the electricity grid, as laughable as the Liberal idea that they can get $175 million a year by cracking down on contraband cigarettes. Yes, it is true that every party has vote-buying policies in their platforms, but not on such a large-scale as the NDP.

The idea behind the shift to populism is simple. Horwath wants to capitalize on the NDP surge in the federal election. With the surge, there is a real opportunity for the NDP to make gains and bring forward a very progressive agenda, although this shift to populism also occurred because of the very progressive nature of the governing Liberals in 2 key areas, detailed below.

  1. Education: Dalton McGuinty is known as the education premier for a reason. The Liberals want to make this one of the talking points of the election, including promising to implement a grant that will reduce the cost of tuition by thirty percent a year.
  2. Green Policies: The most significant policy of the Liberal government has been the Green Energy Act, and this has caused a lot of environmentalists, including David Suzuki, to come out and support the Liberals over the New Democrats.

This has caused the NDP a sort of identity crisis. With the Liberals intruding into traditional NDP territory, there was an obvious need to differentiate themselves. However, what was presented forward is a platform devoid of true substance. The NDP claim to be a party that supports green energy, yet this it totally compromised by their plan to take the HST off gas, and cap the price of gas altogether. The current absence of an education platform in my opinion speaks volumes, and I suspect this is due to it being almost entirely the same as the current Liberal plan, maybe with even less solid proposals to lower the cost of tuition.

What is the purpose of this rant? This platform shows a very real worry for those that believe in progressive values for Ontario. If this platform gains traction and increases the vote count of the NDP it could set the stage for years of a party that no longer presents government as a force for good, but merely something that gets in the way of people and their money. These short-sighted proposals also threaten the long-term health of the Ontario. It also shows a lack of leadership on the part of Andrea Horwath, and makes me think that if in power every decision made would be based solely on political gain as opposed to doing the right thing.

The Ontario Liberals have successfully done what Michael Ignatieff and the federal Liberals attempted, which was to marginalize the NDP vote and voice with a strong, progressive, centre-left platform and then turn round a hammer away at the conservatives. The reason for the success at the provincial level at achieving is twofold. McGuinty has his record of eight years at the helm of Ontario, and he faces a rookie leader, leading a party that has yet to fully mature into something of substance. While this is not an endorsement of the Ontario Liberal Party or their plan (I could devote an entire new column to the problems with that platform), right now the best bet for many progressives in Ontario is to back the Liberals on October 6th. If the Ontario NDP wants to be known as a social democratic party, it simply isn’t good enough for the them to promise to support unions and raise corporate taxes. Their platform must, from top to bottom, be filled with substantive, progressive, policies.

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