No time for an Ontario election: NDP and Liberals should work together on progressive policy

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This is crunch time for the NDP. Here is the question a lot of progressive people like me are asking: Is Andrea Horwath just another wind-up politician or is she an actual leader?

Because the same-old, same-old populist posturing that's going on right now makes it look like she thinks it's all business as usual, which it is not.

We all do understand that she and the party are in a quandary. But this budget is unfolding in a dangerous context that forces us to expand the frame of this conversation and get real.

We exist in a global reality -- and the seas of the world economy are roiling. We are five years into an economic disaster that is far from over. Growth is at a standstill, more or less -- mostly less. Jobs are dropping off the map. Prices are rising. And there is continuous instability on every horizon.

In so many places, bankers and other (largely corporate) tax criminals have taken over whole governments -- look how Big Oil owns our federal gov. Sometimes they have done it directly through imposing wicked debt conditions (Europe), elsewhere by whipping up disgruntled minorities (hello, Tea Party).

Either way, they're dictating disastrous, impoverishing public policy. Wherever you look, massive numbers of nice people like us are waking up to a social infrastructure that is disappearing in ways we could not have imagined just a few years back.

By the grace of a few miracles, our situation in Ontario is actually better than most. I'm not saying things are great. It's definitely very hard times. But in today's sunny Ontario, we voters have actually managed to put the entire might of the provincial government's economic and political heft in the hands of two determined women of goodwill who both helm parties stocked to the brim with members and supporters who want a better, more compassionate and sustainable world.

And this is truly democracy at work, if we let it be so. These two parties have an impressive democratic mandate with close to two-thirds of the electorate on their side.

Of course, both parties have their not so delightful membership as well -- the zealots and careerists and those angling for their own special interests of the business, financial and union variety. Each party most certainly has its own depressing shadow side that can make the blood boil. But together, they can be amazing.

The budget tabled shows that there is a great opportunity to influence the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne's vigorous new leadership. Horwath got a generous response to most of her demands, signalling that Wynne is prepared to ante up. Her own approach and political calculations include a good dose of progressive appeal.

This, my friends, is in stark contrast to the situation most of the rest of the world is facing. The politicians in so many, many places (including in Canada federally) are mostly either appalling or beyond appalling. Not so here in Ontario. We cannot afford to waste this exceptional opportunity.

The fact is that when it comes to the Ontario budget, this is no time for recklessness. We have a unique opportunity right here, right now. And the need for good government couldn't be greater.

An election is a distraction and most of all a risk we cannot afford in these lean times. The likeliest casualty of a Hudak government -- whether minority or majority -- is what remains of the social fabric we desperately need to shield us from the worst of what is to come.

I understand that this is a conundrum for the NDP: how can the party preserve its premium progressive brand and at the same time use its mandate to make the most of this special situation? But those progressive bona fides will be sacrificed if it doesn't co-operate. New values need to be heralded in these women-led times. Co-operation was once enshrined in the very name of the party. It's time to remember and reaffirm our roots in the inspiring and necessary vision of a co-operative commonwealth.

What is very old is new again. I'm suggesting the New Democratic Party leader embrace both her own feminine side and the party's history. The shiny old beacon of co-operation can once again light a path toward the common wealth we must and can foster and manifest.

This article was first published in NOW Magazine.

Photo: Patrick Imbeau/flickr

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