Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ontario NDP prospects dim, and federal NDP is watching with concern for 2015

Ontario is Canada's largest province, with the largest population outside of Quebec, so the voting patterns of Ontario voters in provincial elections can be and often are a barometer of things to come in federal elections. This spring, Ontario voters will go to the polls on June 12, following a decision by the NDP not to support the Liberal budget and force the minority government to call an election. Emerging from the campaign of the Tories under current Harris-clone leader Tim Hudak are two prominent numbers: 100,000 and 1,000,000.
The first number is the number of civil service jobs Hudak would cut, if he became premier.
The second number is the number of new jobs, through the private sector, spurred by tax cuts he would introduce, Hudak promises under a Conservative government, if elected.
These are simplistic numbers, easily displayed in all media ads for the Tories, and easily digested by even the least interested voter, a standard that all political statements have to meet. However, they are also highly misleading and deceptive, covering up a multitude of issues with which the voters of Ontario are very familiar. Only a few years ago, another Conservative premier promised a similar ideologically pure right-wing agenda, and one of the results was the death of two and the severe illness of several others from water contamination directly attributable to reductions in water inspectors in Walkerton, an example of the potential buried in civil service cuts that Premier Kathleen Wynne points to at every press briefing when asked to comment on Hudak's "jobs" proposal. "Replacing pay slips with pink slips" is how Wynne characterizes his position.
Relying on the private sector for his "jobs engine" is also a proposition fraught with peril, given the resistance of the private sector to increase investment in either capital equipment or hiring in a modestly sluggish economy.
For her part, Andrea Horwath, the NDP leader explained her party's withdrawal of support for the minority Liberal government  because "we could not trust the Liberals to follow through in implementing their budget proposals". However, that budget was filled with NDP-friendly proposals including:

Establishing a new 10-year, $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to partner with business to  attract investments, strengthen Ontario’s strategic sectors and support the province’s future economic growth.
  • Giving small businesses the tools they need to conserve energy, manage costs and save money.
  • Helping large businesses with their electricity costs.
  • Expanding the reach of Ontario’s exports to fast-growing emerging markets, to help many small and medium-sized businesses grow and create jobs.

  • Investing in Transportation and Infrastructure
    Ontario’s projected population growth will result in significant demand for all types of infrastructure.  That is why the Province is planning to invest more than $130 billion in public infrastructure over the next 10 years, including:
    • Dedicating funding to make nearly $29 billion available over the next 10 years for transportation infrastructure across the province.
    • Investing a total of $2.5 billion in 2014–15 for highway rehabilitation and expansion projects across the province.
    • Supporting municipal roads and bridges through a new permanent $100 million fund.
    An Ontario-based retirement plan 
    • To help Ontarians, especially middle-income earners, be more secure in their retirement, the 2014 Ontario Budget proposes the first-of-its-kind provincial pension plan that builds on the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
    A CPP enhancement would have long-term economic benefits by growing the economy and creating jobs, while providing for a more secure retirement for all working Canadians. Given the federal government’s decision to shut down discussions on an enhancement to CPP, Ontario will be developing a “made-in-Ontario” solution — the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP).
    The ORPP would:
    • Build on the key features of the CPP, including a predictable monthly benefit in retirement that is indexed to inflation and paid for life.
    •  Increase retirement savings while keeping contribution rates low.
    •  Be introduced in 2017, beginning with large employers, with contributions phased in over two years. 
    • Increase the level of earnings covered beyond what is currently covered by the CPP
    • Lowering costs in the system over the last 18 months, reducing what people would have otherwise paid by about $520 over the next five years.
    • Proposing to remove the Debt Retirement Charge cost from residential users’ electricity bills after December 31, 2015, saving a typical residential ratepayer about $70 per year
    (From the Government of Ontario, Department of Finance website.)

    Clearly the Liberals calculated that if the NDP vetoed the budget, they would put themselves at the mercy of the potential campaign strategy of being swept aside by the debate between the Liberals and the Conservatives, and lose their current 21-member standing in the Legislature. Furthermore, the  budget, with NDP support in a minority government would have had more chance of being passed dependent on the leverage Horwath then had with the governing Liberals. Not incidentally, the budget was very favourably received in labour and other "working class" voter blocks, and many wondered what was going on in the NDP strategy rooms when the decision was taken to torpedo both the budget and the legislative session.
    Now, the chickens are coming home to roost: not only is Horwath having trouble justifying her decision because it has not found resonance among the voting public but her own party faithful have come out swinging against her decision to torpedo the budget and for not taking positions that are equally if not more favourable to the left-wing of the party. They are accusing Horwath of having become another centre-right party, abandoning the principles of social justice and labour fairness, and job and workplace enhancement and are demanding that the party leadership change course before the election, now only a matter of two weeks away. When asked about the Liberal proposal to finish four-laning highway 69 from Toronto to Sudbury by 2016, Horwath was able only to imitate lamely the Liberals by promising to finish the project by 2015, hardly a significant improvement over what the Liberals have committed to do. If, by taking ads in the Toronto Sun, a right-wing populist newspaper, Horwath is attempting to woo blue-collar workers away from the Conservatives, her thinking is also off the mark, given that their ideological commitment to the 'right' outweighs their interest in and commitment to 'social justice' and even a neophyte NDP campaign worker would know that.
    Here is how CTV news reports on the polite and public insurrection from within the NDP, in a public letter to Horwath:
     In the strongest signal yet that Horwath is losing the support of some of the party faithful, she received an open letter Friday from 34 current and former New Democrats -- some well-known within the party -- who said they were "angry" that she did not support the Liberal budget on May 1, triggering an election.
    Calling it "the most progressive budget in recent Ontario history," they wrote: "From what we can see you are running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes. It is not clear whether you have given up on progressive voters or you are taking them for granted."
    The group went on to say that they were "seriously considering not voting NDP" this time.
    (By Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press, on May 24, 2014)
    Read more:
    While this may seem like a small skirmish inside the NDP, it has serious implications for the upcoming federal election in 2015, in which, if Tom Mulcair is to have any hope of dethroning Steven Harper's conservatives, he will have to rely on NDP support in significant numbers from Ontario. And, if the party, as is predicted by many pundits, falls below its current 21 members on June 12, and Horwath takes a political and embarrassing "bath" (pardon the corny rhyme!) in the voting booth, and has to resign, there will be very little time for the party to recover and dedicate needed and substantial resources to the federal cause. While there is currently no evidence that Trudeau Liberals will present anything as strong as the Wynne Liberal budget to Canadians, as an alternative to Harper in 2015, the NDP "brand" has to be even stronger in Ontario for Mulcair to win 24 Sussex and prospects for that "brand" enhancement seem incredibly low at this point in the provincial campaign.


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