Ontario Election 2014 endorsement: the Left should take yes for an answer
May 6, 2014

Ontario Election 2014 endorsement: the Left should take yes for an answer

The Liberals, federally or provincially, always have a choice when it comes to winning votes. They can either tilt to the right, trying to pick up votes from the Conservatives. Or they can tilt left, trying to pick up votes from the NDP. In this election - in particular, in the proposed budget that sparked this election - the Liberals chose the latter. They made a budget that included several important gems for the left, aiming to win more centre-left voters than they lost centre-right voters to the Conservatives.

So what ought a nonpartisan lefty like myself - or a full on NDP supporter like some of you - to do with this situation? I believe we should take yes for an answer. That is, we should generically1 vote Liberal and maintain the political dynamic that rewards parties when they tilt in directions we like. Indeed, if the swayable NDP voters don't respond to the shift to the left, in the future we shall either get a Conservative government or a Liberal government that shifts to the right as it aims for swayable Conservative voters.

This dynamic might be different if the NDP has a real shot at winning. Sorry, but they simply don't. It will be the Liberals or the Conservatives. However, that doesn't mean the NDP is irrelevant. The whole point of having a third party on the left is to try and steer the actual policy that gets implemented to the left. It isn't the case that the only time a party is relevant is when they form a government and get to directly create policy. When in opposition, the appeal to the electorate of that third party means the incumbent party shifts their policies in the direction of the opposition.

It should be considered a success for the left that the Liberals are proposing an Ontario pension plan (as the NDP has long aimed for). It should be considered a success that they want to make a progressive change to the tax code by increasing taxation on high earners, and that some corporate tax loopholes are being closed. Parties themselves don't mean anything, what happens is the policies that can get implemented by parties. An NDP supporter should not feel they have lost if the Liberals have turned to adopt and implement progressive ideas the NDP couldn't get elected to implement themselves.

During the 2011 Ontario Election, I wrote that it was, in effect, a referendum on the fairly significant green energy plan by the Liberals that was, to their discredit, opposed by the NDP. The kind of third party dynamic occurred only with the Green party instead. Namely, when the Greens won 8% in the 2007 election, this pushed the Liberals to come up with a big green energy plan. The Liberals then won the 2011 election and the Greens plunged to 3%. Some might think this is a failure for the Greens, but it wasn't. They were never going to get elected, but nonetheless managed to make a significant contribution to policy demonstrating the appeal of their position, and it was only when the Liberals adopted portions of their platform - the real success - that they fell electorally.

While the 2011 election may have been a referendum on green policies, this election certainly is not. To the extent that battle lines have been drawn, it is effectively a referendum on McGuinty era scandals that the voters never got to punish the Liberals over. Indeed, a seemingly slightly unprepared NDP appears to be scrambling to define this election on terms that are not just about the scandals. In particular, the reaction to creating an Ontario Pension Plan that was a stalwart of NDP policy is going to be tricky for the NDP, as seen by Horwath's email here:

"Empty promises. For ten years Liberals have ignored challenges like the pension crisis. In fact, three years ago, they voted against an NDP proposal to create an Ontario Pension Plan. Now, they‘re making 70 new promises worth billions of dollars while still promising to completely eliminate the deficit and protect corporate tax cuts.
 The Liberal plan isn’t serious or credible. It’s a desperate attempt to get away from years of scandal and waste."
If the NDP demonstrates a reasonable chance of winning, they could be considered. And if they were pushing bold policy issues not adopted by the Liberals they could be supported in the hopes of tilting the political conversation the way the Greens did following 2007 and the NDP did following 2011. But while they have neither a reasonable chance of winning or major left wing policy planks we should try and push, we should vote for the party that has both: the Liberals.


1 I say generically because I typically support the realpolitick of voting based on the specific tactics that optimize our goals in specific ridings. A Liberals vs NDP riding - like my own of Parkdale-Highpark - is very different from a Conservative vs Liberal riding like so many across the province. 

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6 comments:

Ron Waller said...

You should consider the possibility that Wynne is simply campaigning from the left so she can squeeze out the NDP and win a majority. (The Liberals, after all, fell short by only one seat in 2011.) Then she can govern from the right.

This is exactly what the federal Liberals did from 1993 to 2006. During this time they owned more than half the NDP vote, and yet they governed like Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberal party only moved leftwards (from right-of-center) when they needed support from the NDP. In the 2014 budget, Wynne was running campaign attack ads against the NDP. That is not something you do if you are trying to earn support for your budget. This is something you do if you are trying to force an election.

Don't be surprised if Wynne isn't as progressive as she seems if she wins all the power and has no one to answer to.

Kirby Evans said...

@Ron, I wouldn't be surprised at anything anymore. And what Wynne "might" do or "might not" do if she were to win is, I fear, pure speculation. However, let me say this - I have been involved in some capacity with the NDP for much of my adult life and it seems pretty clear that if Horwath were in power we never would have seen a budget as progressive as the one Wynne brought down the other day. The irony is ridiculous. NDPers from Manitoba that I know have been shocked by how progressive this budget was and how Horwath had the gall to reject it.

Ron Waller said...

During the 2013 budget, Wynne worked with the NDP to draft a budget (unlike 2014, which was unilateral.) Wynne agreed to home care for seniors, a 15% discount on bloated auto insurance and a financial accountability office. Yet Wynne reneged on all 3 promises. So it's easy to make big promises then find some way to weasel out of them. So why would the NDP have any reason to trust them this time around? There is gall and there is naivety.

Wynne wasn't doing everything she could to ensure the budget passed. She was doing everything to make it fail, including running attack ads against the NDP. Normally when a government is seeking support for a bill they don't run attack ads against the party they need support from. (And in a minority government situation, the onus is on the ruling party to secure support for their confidence bills.)

So what is Wynne's real agenda? Was she buying time to put the $1.1-billion gas plant scandal behind her? Was she orchestrating an election to campaign from the left, then govern from the right?

One should really look at the real progressive measures the Liberals passed over the past 3 years. Their real actions (not imaginary ones,) when forced to work with the NDP. And I don't see very much accomplished.

And hidden behind the grandiose promises are right-wing privatization schemes, plus keeping McGuinty's $3-billion/yr in failed corporate tax cuts which we are borrowing to pay to the rich.

A lot of progressive illusions. Very little progressive substance. If Wynne wins a majority, she'll have no obligation to govern from the left.

bazie said...

"You should consider the possibility that Wynne is simply campaigning from the left so she can squeeze out the NDP and win a majority. (The Liberals, after all, fell short by only one seat in 2011.) Then she can govern from the right."
This is always possible. However, I tend to think that while campaign promises aren't the be all and end all of subsequent policy, they do at least establish certain bounds. Especially with things like the taxes on earners over $150,000, if they win and get elected on this kind of policy it is hard to suddenly back down on it when they get in power. Besides, while we know less about Wynne than we do about McGuinty, we have seen from the Ontario Liberals before on the green energy file that they certainly are willing to follow through on some fairly big and thorny issues built into campaign promises.

"In the 2014 budget, Wynne was running campaign attack ads against the NDP. That is not something you do if you are trying to earn support for your budget. This is something you do if you are trying to force an election. "
I think it is relatively clear that all parties knew the election was coming. The Liberals knew that no matter what they did the NDP (and obviously the Cons) were going to not accept the budget. So yes, they were in active campaign mode while releasing the budget just as the NDP was as they instantly refused the budget when it came. It is interesting tactics, actually, to give such an aggressively progressive NDP-friendly budget knowing that it will be refused, much more progressive than the ones actually working with the NDP.

Ron Waller said...

Good points. It should be noted that coalition governments are the norm in the developed world and they usually work together through the entire term. It's our unstable, distorted and primitive voting system, First-Past-the-Post, that rewards crass political opportunism and polarizing politics. This is because for a small swing in vote in the polls their is a large swing in projected seats. Campaigns can cause even bigger swings.

This chaos is the reason why we have one of the most unstable and ridiculous version of democracies. When there are minority governments, little gets done because of partisan jockeying. The rest of the time we dole out absolute power to arbitrary minority parties shutting the actual majority out of government - the literal opposite of democracy.

The corporate-owned media buries the issue of voting reform in Canada, because corporations can easier influence and lobby minority-party dictatorships than multi-party democratic governments. In short, Canada has a serious case of arrested development and is still stuck in the 19th century. We need to have our own revolution or we will remain an aristocracy (which in modern times is a corporatocracy.)

Either proportional representation or ranked ballot voting will bring democracy to Canada. With democracy, activism can get something accomplished - not to mention the real will of the people will be carried out.

Proportional representation much more stable than First-Past-the-Post

bazie said...

Hear, hear.

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