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Nora Loreto's blog

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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the rabble.ca series Up! Canadian Labour Rising. Nora is on leave as an editor with the Canadian Association of Labour Media while she takes care of infant twins. Nora's music can be heard here and her blog can be read at www.noraloreto.ca.

Survey says: The ONDP is out of ideas

| February 9, 2013

What is up with the Ontario NDP?

During the last election, rather than offering Ontarians a vision for the province that was a real alternative to the austerity policies of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP promised every Ontarian relief from the HST on their home heating bills.

The chorus around hydro was so loud that it drowned out other, moderately more progressive, though equally boring policies. The sum total was an election where I held my nose and encouraged myself to not vote for the Northern Ontario Heritage Party candidate running in my Toronto riding.

(I didn’t know that party existed, though I figured the word “heritage” was a code word for “racist” as it sometimes is in Canada.)

I bring up the last Ontario election because that was the last time the NDP’s policies directly affected me, as an Ontarian. Aside from their disappointing budget negotiations last spring where they could have maybe saved the ONTC, the election was the last time the NDP had the chance to impress me as a potential voter. Then I left Ontario for Québec.

Despite the neoliberal policies of the Parti Québécois, they make the Ontario NDP look like the Progressive Conservatives. With a vision of Québec that is slightly less neoliberal than the Liberal party’s, the Ontario NDP could learn a lot from the PQ’s social democratic approach.

The key to their success is producing (and implementing) a platform that more or less resembles what they believe Québecers want: an end to corruption in politics, a moratorium on fracking, banning asbestos mining, a tuition fee freeze (the NDP promised that in the 2011 election), 15,000 new public childcare spaces and increasing taxes on top income earners.

With a particular ideology, the PQ has offered a program that they have used to entice Québecers to support them.

For some reason, the NDP has instead relied on the use of online surveys to determine their political priorities. It was this survey approach that some NDP activists used to justify their weak policies during the 2011 election. During the election, Ontarians apparently “had their say” to make HST off home heating the big issue of the election for the NDP.

And they’re trying it again.

This past fall, the NDP should have jumped on McGuinty’s prorogued government and turned it into a rallying point. They should have staged protests across the province, pretended to govern anyway, issued daily press releases with the issue that the NDP caucus would be highlighting each day, invited Liberal and PC MPPs to join them in their mock government, flooded radio phone-in shows with stories about their dedication to democracy, rejuvenated the campaign for electoral reform or basically anything else that was something.

Instead, there wasn’t a whole lot. The teachers’ negotiations dominated the headlines and the NDP was almost completely absent from the debate.

And when the OFL impressively mobilized nearly 30,000 people out front of the Liberal Convention, in many ways the culmination of the battle waged by the teachers, Andrea Horwath wasn’t among the speakers. Was this labour’s fault? The NDP’s? I don’t know. But if I were running the NDP, I’d have every single NDP MPP, staffer and activist all over that rally as if it were lifeboats being dropped off the side of the titanic, whatever it took.

Now, faced with a leader who may actually appear more progressive than Horwath at the Liberal Party, the NDP has returned to their favoured form of policy development: another survey.

You can tell Andrea your priorities because, apparently, she’s run out of her own.

In the fight against the Liberals, here’s what is supposed to inspire Ontarians:

  • End corporate tax loopholes (this is just related to the HST)
  • On-the-job training for youth
  • Opening doors-to-employment
  • 15% cut to auto insurance rates
  • 5 day home care guarantee for seniors
  • Balanced approach to balancing the budget

This is supposed to differentiate them from the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. This is supposed to be inspiring.

If the NDP is going to start convincing Ontarians to vote for progressive policies, rather than just picking up the scraps left behind by even less impressive Liberal and PC parties, they’re going to have to do better.

Why not promise to do something actually progressive? Why not demonstrate to Ontarians why the left exists and that it’s capable enough to fight for a more just and equitable world? Why pretend that on-the-job training for youth (more unpaid internships??) will do anything to help a generation of young people who are drowning in debt and cobbling together shitty contract with shitty contract to get by?

If it’s crowdsourcing that the NDP has opened itself up to in this process, then, fine. Here’s a list that can be crowdsourced.

  • Immediately instate $5/day publicly subsidized childcare
  • Create a Green Ontario plan that would halt mining on traditional Indigenous territory, increase rail connections, reinvest in the ONTC, invest in alternative energy sources and phase out nuclear power.
  • Reverse McGuinty’s tuition fee increases (a reduction of up to 71%).
  • Create a new tax bracket for people making more than $150,000
  • Launch a corruption probe into the affairs of the Liberal Party to investigate ORNGE, E-Health and the Mississauga gas plan closure.

I really want Ontarians to have a progressive, uniting force that can take down neoliberal politicians and I’m not naïve: the NDP isn’t supposed to be this force. But in its desperate reach for populism while still occupying space on the “left” it prohibits any other opportunities for activists to build an alternative to the party.

Instead, progressives are expected to lobby the NDP the way they would lobby the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, through meetings and online surveys.

It’s no wonder the party seems to be struggling to reach people. By and large, its relationship with the left is somewhere between damaged and non-existent.

In Québec, the Parti Québecois’ brand of populism and social democratic rule wasn’t good enough for the left. The result has been the creation of Québec solidaire, born out of social movement organizations.

Ontario isn’t Québec but progressives from both regions should learn from each other: either the NDP must be turned into a fighting, progressive force, or it can’t continue to be the only party on the “left.”

Because unfortunately, the status quo is letting austerity win.

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