Grenade launched at Ontario’s NDP

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday May 28 2014 in Opinion
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Andrea Horwath is in trouble. The leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) is facing considerable criticisms. The latest attack comes from members and long-time supporters of the NDP who sent a letter expressing their disappointment with the campaign to Howarth. It is as if a grenade has been launched into the middle of the campaign that has the effect of destroying the NDP’s credibility.


Thirty-four long-time supporters, including Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzi, Janice Gairey and Michele Landsberg, the wife of former ONDP leader, Stephen Lewis, sent the letter to Horwath. The letter essentially says: We don’t like what we are seeing and hearing. You are abandoning the traditional NDP positioning…what’s up with that?


Quoting from the letter: “We were angry when you voted against the most progressive budget in recentOntariohistory. Given your mistrust of the Liberals, it still would have been better to insist they carry out their promises rather than just bringing them down.”


I am not surprised that this kind of letter was sent to the leader of the ONDP. I am surprised, however, that it was released to the public in the middle of the campaign. One has to wonder why they decided to lob this grenade now. What do they hope to achieve? It is useless trying to tell me that the letter was meant to be confidential and was leaked. Tell me something else.


This letter adds to one penned earlier by Gerry Caplan, another long-time NDP supporter and advisor. In his letter, Caplan wrote: “Since your decision to defeat the Liberal budget, many of the party’s most loyal supporters have been bewildered, frustrated and exasperated. Your decision to oppose what just about everyone agrees was the most progressive budget in two decades shocked many.”


The president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), Sid Ryan (who has been a candidate for the NDP and is one of those “hot and cold” supporters) has also taken a similar view in criticizing the NDP’s non-support for the Liberal budget.


These all echo the sentiments and reaction that many had when the budget was brought down. And one has to wonder why the NDP decided not to support it.


Traditionally, the internal workings of the NDP have strived to be democratic. The decision not to support the budget, I would suspect, would require a Caucus vote, and likely the provincial executive. That suggests that the winning side wanted an election. Why?


The polls released by the newspapers did not give the NDP any significant advantage to win or make substantial gains in an election. So, it would seem that those advising the NDP hierarchy probably found that the view of the environment is hostile enough for the Liberals because of the pretty bad spending mistakes made by the former premier and his cohort. The decision frankly seems to rest very squarely on that sense of dissatisfaction than on the gains the party engineered in the budget.


The campaign, from the NDP’s perspective, has been focused on the “broken promises” of the Wynne government. Many of the critics have pointed to the fact that the budget that was proposed gave sufficient leverage to the NDP to say that they “won” this argument and could continue to support the minority government. It appears that the officials and advisors saw a chance to take power – putting them in direct conflict with what seemed to be the preponderance of vote wishes.


In the meantime, Tim Hudak and his threat to cut jobs while creating jobs – a befuddling concept – is largely ignored by the NDP campaign.


Anyway, on the face of it, I agree with some of the criticisms Horwath is receiving. I am however stumped by the very idea that these strong supporters would choose to leak such a letter of strong criticism now, in the middle of the campaign. It smells very strongly of sabotage, but to what end?


What were other options open to them? They could have asked for a private meeting with the leader where they could have aired their grievances. It may not have changed anything, but then it would give the strategist the opportunity to weigh their concerns and reflect those concerns going forward. It would be difficult to alter course now, after such a public shaming, without shaking the party’s confidence.


And, as I noted before, they could have held off going public until after the election where they could more openly discuss Horwath’s leadership attributes.


As it is, Howarth now has to be watching her flank as she could be in danger of more friendly fire, not to mention the boost the other parties get in denouncing her leadership based on these public criticisms. Her credibility has now been severely undermined.


There has always been an acceptance within the philosophy of the NDP that influencing progressive change is a role that is considerably as important, if not more so, as taking power. The flip in that philosophy appears to be what is happening in the 2014 NDP vision. I think that after June 12, it will be interesting to see how the party responds.

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