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                                 Where Will Ontario's NDP Go In 2017?


 

By Randall White

According to an Angus Reid poll released last week, Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s job approval has now dropped to 16% — lower than any other provincial premier. 

According to a Forum Research poll from late last month “Just one quarter of Ontario voters describe themselves as ‘small c’ conservatives (27%).”

From such data an objective observer might deduce that the road to the next provincial election on June 7, 2018 will be strewn with roses for Ontario New Democrats — the progressive alternative to the ailing Liberals.

Yet recently Paul Ferreira, former chief of staff to the NDP's past leader Howard Hampton, former MPP and subsequent perennial strong Ontario NDP candidate in the Toronto riding of York South Weston, sent two protest tweets of resignation across social media.

His “last straw” issue was the party’s support for Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown's anti-Toronto-road-tolls motion in the Ontario legislature.

At the same time, Paul Ferreira’s two 140-character Friday morning messages also raised deeper and more difficult questions about the Ontario New Democratic Party.

His first tweet just noted “After more than 25 yrs, today I quit ONDP.” A second message added “I'm afraid party I grew up with, of big & bold ideas, has lost its way.”

Defenders of the status quo may urge that Mr. Ferreira resides in Toronto. And in a December 14 Facebook follow-up to his December 9 tweets he did stress that in the last Ontario election in 2014 “the party saw its fortunes in Toronto plummet.”

The Ferreira critique similarly recalls an open letter from 34 New Democrat notables to party leader Andrea Horwath during the 2014 campaign. It complained about “running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes.”

In late 2016 New Democrats in Ontario are haunted as well by the state of the party in Ottawa. Some would argue that in the last federal election Tom Mulcair repeated the big mistake of running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes. 

Put another way, the Trudeau and Wynne Liberals alike have usurped the traditional New Democrat progressive platform. 

According to certain theories, the best way to fight this is to move further left, not right. And some pundits are now advising Ms. Horwath to channel Bernie Sanders in the 2018 campaign.

Defenders of the status quo can urge that Andrea Horwath from Hamilton Centre is closer to south-western Ontario. This is in part a still economically troubled manufacturing region, which has sometimes lurched between New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives.

Moreover, beyond Toronto in the 2014 Ontario election Ms. Horwath’s NDP picked up a seat from the PCs in Oshawa in the GTA, another seat from the Liberals in the deep southwest of Windsor, and another again from the Liberals (briefly at any rate) in Sudbury in northern Ontario.  

And then the one bright New Democrat star in Canada today is Rachel Notley’s government in Alberta. Emulating this new provincial model may be what Andrea Horwath is already trying to do in Ontario.

Meanwhile, there appears to be some growing consensus that the partial sale of Hydro One to raise public revenue was the great mistake that has pushed Kathleen Wynne’s grip on the polling narrative down to its current abysmal level.  

The NDP numbers actually look not too bad in the most recent late November survey from Forum Research. Ms. Horwath’s party is even tied with the Liberals. 

On certain theories New Democrats are the natural custodians of the people’s power. A 2018 election focused on public anger over the Hydro One sale just might go their way — even if the current polls are predicting a PC landslide. 

Yet again, Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty also had an abysmal 16% approval rating in March 2011. And yet he went on to win a “major minority” government in October.  

Some Ontario New Democrat activists today agree with Paul Ferreira.  As he explained in his Facebook follow-up “I believe the party ... no longer offers a coherent, progressive vision for Ontario.” It “seems to be running on empty, devoid of political courage...” 

Mr. Ferreira also still believes there is a need for a New Democrat voice, and will not be joining any other party. 

As he explained in responding to comments on his Twitter protest “The party just needs a good reset. A control-alt-delete moment. Perhaps soon.”

Whether Andrea Horwath’s ONDP will listen all that carefully seems an open question.

Ontario New Democrats (and voters at large) who think Paul Ferreira has a point may have to wait until after June 7, 2018 for their control-alt-delete moment. But already he has done something interesting. And it could have a long enough shelf life. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : December 22, 2016

View all of Randall White's columns
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