Identity Crisis: The Horwath NDP Election Platform

This is the third installment in my take on the platforms of the major contenders for Ontario provincial leadership. You can see the first here and the second here.


Andrea Horwath is why we’re all here. When the Liberals crafted their budget, it was with enough leftist goodies wrapped up in it that you could almost ask if the NDP had written it for them, and that was the whole point; they were forcing Andrea Horwath into the difficult predicament of supporting the Liberal government, or voting down the government by rejecting a budget that they should love. If they rejected the budget, they would be saddled with the task of explaining why they were, seemingly, rejecting ideas that were in lock-step with their own.

And, it hasn’t gotten any easier. The NDP has been the slowest to release their campaign platform, and, now that they have, they are being criticized for it being un-NDP. They’ve also started sounding a lot like the Progressive Conservatives, in some ways, and the change in stance has sent some NDP supporters looking for answers elsewhere. But, if Andrea Horwath called this election, she must have had a plan for winning it, hadn’t she? Or, at least a good reason for it in the first place? More to the point, those things should be evident in any platform the NDP releases, and should be distinct enough from the other two parties that you can get a sense for the identity the NDP are projecting. Is that the case, though?


Andrea Horwath, to explain why her party was going to reject the Liberal budget and cast the province into an election, said that she couldn’t vote to support promises that she didn’t feel would be kept. The Liberals are untrustworthy, said Horwath, and could not be counted on to deliver on whatever promises they were making in the proposed budget. So, it didn’t matter whether the budget proposal contained some or many elements that would appeal to the NDP as a party, because it was a list of gifts that would never come.

So, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the NDP platform borrows heavily from the budget the Liberals put forward to get us here. After all, it’s not about what was in the budget, it’s about who is delivering the budget, according to Horwath.

Again, we see proposals for improving healthcare, education, care of the elderly, and a collective drubbing of the affluent and powerful. The NDP would freeze tuition, prevent school closures and expand programs, cut ER wait-times in half, support families caring for the ill or elderly, open health clinics, and balance the budget by 2017-18.

It all sounds fairly familiar, but also quite good, doesn’t it?

Corporate taxes would increase by 1% in order to help fund some of these initiatives, while taxes for small businesses would be cut by 1.5%. Horwath would also appoint an office of Financial Accountability to help find places where money could be saved and scraped together to support everything outlined in her platform.

There seems to be a little bit of something in here for everyone, really. Well, unless you are a CEO or a big corporate entity, in which case you are pretty much just going to feel abused and mistreated. But, nobody cares too much if Richie McRicherson feels a little downtrodden at the end of the day, right? It’s about time the vaunted 1% get a dose of 99% vengeance.

Something does seem to be missing from the NDP platform, however.

Substance.

How is the budget going to be balanced by 2017-18? From what I have read of this platform, there is a whole lot of spending to support various wonderful greater-good programs, including $29billion over ten years for infrastructure and transportation projects, but there’s next to nothing to explain where that money is coming from. Sure, you can raise corporate taxes by 1%, but that doesn’t bring in enough to support all of this spending. Even if you find ways of funding all of these initiatives, restoring balance to the budget would require some pretty serious savings elsewhere, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion as to where those savings might be found. Unless, of course, that’s what the new Office of Financial Accountability would somehow uncover. It would almost be better to call them the Office of Gainful Fiscal Miracles, should that be the plan.

What about the wait times? This isn’t the first time that we have heard that wait times will be reduced dramatically, without any real, concrete plan for how that will happen. Sure, opening new family health clinics would ease the ER burden, but you need doctors to see patients in those clinics for that to work, and we have a notorious difficulty finding enough of those. Employing more nurse practitioners can help with some of the load, but nurse practitioners aren’t qualified to replace doctors in all situations, nor do we have an abundance of nurses just waiting to have a place to work, either. For wait times to be reduced by half, it looks like there would have to be a sudden influx of healthcare providers, one that seems improbable.

Take the HST off the hydro bills? Force insurers to reduce their rates by 15%? It sounds great, but can it be delivered, and how much money does this really mean in our pockets?

Much like the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the math doesn’t add up. Except that, worse yet, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of math on display here, which leaves people wondering how any of these promises are going to be delivered, or whether or not they can be. Regardless, the inclusion of so many Liberal government budget promises in the NDP platform has already started a shift of the NDP from their position firm to the left of provincial politics towards the center, something that has rankled supporters. Former candidates and the wife of a former NDP leader have signed a letter indicating that they have lost faith in the NDP, and that they are reconsidering how they will vote.

But, Horwath is indicating that center isn’t enough of a shift to the right, starting to sound very much like the Progressive Conservatives. Horwath has avoided using terms like “corrupt” to reference the Liberals, leaving the Progressive Conservatives to harp about corruption and criminality in the Wynne administration. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer, as Horwath recently said:

“If there’s one straightforward, up-front job that progressives have, it’s to shut down corruption and get rid of the kind of behaviour that we’ve seen from the Liberal government,” she said. “When I made the decision I made, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But when I heard the feedback from Ontarians, I heard the disgust with the way that the scandals had been rolling out with the waste of their money.”

Change the names and circumstances a little, and you have something that sounds very much like Stephen Harper speaking of Paul Martin.

What’s clear from the NDP platform is that the NDP are struggling under the weight of their initial decision to vote down a budget that, on principle, they probably should have supported. There’s nothing substantially different in the NDP platform from what Kathleen Wynne promised in her budget proposal, nor is there anything that truly contradicts or even addresses the Tim Hudak platform. There’s also little to no explanation of how the NDP plan would be delivered, or how it will be funded. In fact, it’s no less an unfounded wish list than the Liberal or Progressive Conservative platforms, except for the fact that it includes even less math and accounting, flawed or otherwise. At best, it is center of left, or leaning heavily to the right, and without the support of those true left wing NDP voters, it’s unclear how Andrea Horwath expects to succeed in an election that she, herself, engineered.

With plans that are short on details, questionably feasible, and powered by a personality that seems to be unsure of its own identity, the NDP platform doesn’t look like leadership in the making, which could spell serious trouble for Andrea Horwath once the dust on this election has settled. For now, it’s enough to ask what a voter can do, torn between three parties that seem variably incoherent, wishful or delusional.

A true bounty of riches, isn’t it?

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