rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Michael Laxer's blog

Michael Laxer's picture
Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

The perils of populism: Andrea Horwath, taxes, road tolls and the 'war on the car'

| March 22, 2013

History is ripe with irony, though the irony is generally lost on those in the midst of it.

Today we have the irony of an Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) running on a "pocketbook"-driven right-wing populist platform that is antithetical to the founding principles of their own movement, and doing so with seemingly no sense that they are, in reality, engaging in the final sacrifice of these principles on the alter of the moral false god of power.

Recently, in the Toronto Star, Trish Hennessy and Hugh Mackenzie argued very persuasively that austerity, the lack of economic growth, and tax cuts are inextricably linked (as I have previously, among others, argued on the pages of rabble)  and they outlined a list of entirely responsible changes to taxation policy that, sadly, absolutely no one at Queen's Park is remotely interested in implementing.

In the present context of neo-liberal austerity and ideological consolidation, and this is very specific to this context, there is not a single case or situation in which advocating for tax cuts is "progressive" let alone left-wing. In fact, in the present context, any calls for tax cuts are inherently reactionary and enabling of the forces, like the Hudak led Ontario Tories, who have been successful in making Canadians believe that the very notion taxation is burdensome and somehow damaging to a "middle-class" lifestyle. 

All tax cuts, including cuts to consumption taxes, benefit the austerity agenda and aid in perpetuating the growth of our culture of extreme inequality. This is due to the fact that taxes, socially speaking, are redistributive in the present context by definition.  The "bottom" 50 per cent (if not more) of income earners will always get far more out of increased or maintained taxes (in terms of services, health care, social security, etc,) than they put in.

Hudak has outlined a plan of tax and service cuts that, if implemented, are nothing short of an attack on the very foundations of the Ontario economy and that would guarantee a U.K.-style economic collapse.

The Liberals, being Liberals, have coasted through their years of power by being Mike Harris with a human face; cutting taxes and, until 2008, evading the consequences of it due to the fortuitous situation of a global economy firing on all cylinders.

New to the game is the ONDP, who have only recently become certified tax fighters, and so-called "consumer activists" on the backs of the environment as well as the actually poor and "working poor". As the ONDP (and the NDP in general) is fixated on the notion of power, they have embraced the underpinning of a consumerist culture with a zeal that is, even now, rather surprising.

They have adopted the Ralph Nader like "consumer protectionist" values of American "progressives" in the era just prior to the rise of neo-liberal forces and replaced formerly held notions, however vague, of class with a non-ideological version of them. 

Thus they eschew, when it matters, (such as when holding the balance of power as they have since the last election) issues such as welfare (which they allowed to be cut, in real terms, in the last Ontario budget) or programs related to poverty and instead emphasize making life more "affordable" for the middle-class; a class that is seemingly very large given that the ONDP has only advocated raising personal taxes on the top third of Ontario's "1 per cent"... those making over $500,000 a year!

Beyond the silliness of centring a supposedly leftist or progressive agenda around policies such as "rewarding job creators" (namely small business, the worst employers in the economy) through tax cuts (which is what the ONDP is proposing for incorporated "small businesses"), one has to begin to question the zeal with which the ONDP embraces that retrograde symbol of '50s Americana: the car.

Horwath's unwillingness to discomfort the "middle class" at all in the aim of changing personal behaviour  to aid obvious budgetary and environmental goals has already been demonstrated by the entirely wrong-headed, pseudo-populist campaign the ONDP has led against the HST on home heating. 

The campaign is driven by a desperation to appeal to middle-class and upper middle-class home owning consumerists. Most tenants, for example, do not actually pay for home heating. So they already pay no HST. Much worse, the HST cuts would apply to everyone, including Bridal Path mansion owners. Apparently Conrad Black needs a home heating tax cut. If helping low-income citizens, as opposed to attempting to appeal to the upper middle class, was the actual goal, the ONDP could offer rebates capped at a certain amount per year of home heating consumption (say $500-1000)... thereby excluding rich people, the upper middle class and those indulging in unnecessary gas consumption. They are not doing this.

Given the very pressing need to see middle and upper income citizens alter their consumption patterns, an across the board HST cut on home heating is outright reactionary.

The ONDP is on the wrong side here. David Suzuki was right about that.

Even worse, Horwath and her caucus are almost Rob Ford like in their enthusiasm to end the "war on the car."

Thus we find Horwath virtually completely rejecting a recent proposal by the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) to raise revenues to fund transit and road infrastructure by implementing a variety of new taxes, including:

-  A regional sales tax.

-  A $1 a day parking space levy.

-  A 10 cents per litre regional fuel tax.

-  High-occupancy toll lanes in which drivers of single occupancy vehicles would pay 30 cents a kilometre.

She does so by stating "I've said all along that the solutions have to be found, but when the solutions are simply putting the burden of the costs on families who are already struggling, I'm concerned." She then claims that none of this should even be discussed until the government has closed a variety of unspecified "corporate tax loopholes" that she implies would allow for the funding, a claim that is as manifestly and easily proven to be false as were Ford's claims of being able to fund his platform by ending the "gravy train". While the loopholes should be closed, given all the things that need to be covered in the Ontario budget, these loopholes amount to a minuscule addition to the revenue stream. Any revenue generated by them would also unquestionably be more than lost through the implementation of the tax cuts the ONDP advocates.

Her position is even more astounding given that investment in transit infrastructure will directly benefit those Ontarians who are most "struggling" in Toronto, those who rely on public transit.  They have carried the financial burden of subsidizing the car-culture-driven lifestyle of suburbanites for a very long time. Apparently Horwath wishes to extend this.

While the TRBOT proposals are, of course, self-serving and do not go nearly far enough, (as they exclude the obvious need for increased personal taxes, something neither the ONDP or anyone else is advocating for either), they are not wrong. In fact road tolls and transit focused taxes such as those they are advocating for are long overdue. 

As a society we desperately  need to shift people out of cars and onto mass transit. It is the morally and environmentally correct course. It also directly benefits our lowest income citizens in entirely obvious ways. 

This is not the first time that Horwath has sacrificed environmental and transit concerns for suburban car owners. Back in 2011, as Martin Regg Cohn noted:

 Andrea Horwath’s love affair with the car is also boundless -- she made lower gas prices a major campaign plank, promising to shave a few pennies off the HST at the pump. And her antipathy to tolls prompted a stunning public rebuke of star NDP candidate Paul Ferreira, who was trying to win back the seat in York South -- Weston.

Ferreira’s crime was to call for an adult discussion on gridlock: “I think we owe it to voters, to residents, to citizens to have mature conversations on topics like that. Should there be road tolls?” he asked in a CBC radio debate on GTA issues. “I am proud to say that in 2006, when I ran for city council in this city, I proposed levying a toll on the DVP and the Gardiner Expressway.”

Horwath did not find his musings amusing.

“Definitely no tolls!” she told reporters the next day. “I’ve been pretty clear about that so I was quite surprised to find that this is something Paul said during a debate. He knows very well that that’s not in my plans. If he’s trying to do that then it will stop at my desk."

Of course Ferreira was right and Horwath wrong.

But it would seem the "mature conversation" is no more likely to be had within the ONDP now than it was then. And transit users, environmental policy and lower income Toronto residents will pay for this.



We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.