The Ontario NDP's small plan isn't even good strategy
May 23, 2014

The Ontario NDP's small plan isn't even good strategy

Shortly after the 2014 Ontario Election was called, I said that progressives - whether nonpartisans like myself or NDP supporters like some of you - should take yes for an answer, and vote to reward Kathleen Wynne's relatively left leaning and progressive budget. Andrea Horwath's big chance to change my mind was with the release of her plan.

The NDP's plan is, to put it kindly, small. It doesn't come out with big, new, transformative progressive ideas. It consists of a series of small and only sometimes worthwhile tweaks, many of which overlap with the Liberals' budget. The biggest move is a small 1% increase in the corporate tax rate. Yes, there are various pieces of orange meat for students, the elderly, and so on that supporters will lap up. But taken together, it simply isn't the kind of progressive transformation I would hope for. Not even close.

A feckless plan, but part of a larger strategy:
The NDP's main hope to significantly improve its standing in the election is to take a way a decent chunk of the centre-left from the Liberals. Horwath's strategy appears to be focusing on issues largely to the right of her party's base. She is pushing a lot of the kind of rhetoric more commonly found on the right: cutting government waste and spending, paired with tax cuts on things like small business and the HST on Hydro (which I disagree with) LINK or other cuts to voter's costs like successfully implementing the Liberals' promised 15% auto insurance rate cut.

It isn't that most of these things are a priori bad, but they are not emphasizing many progressive values. It isn't focusing on environmental sustainability, income inequality, social justice, and the like. It is copy and pasting the kind of small cuts to certain taxes, voter costs and government waste that centrist and right wing parties make their bread and butter. There is a bit of an NDP twist, to be sure, but the rhetoric and policy certainly overlaps.

In effect, it is a claim that the NDP can be better than the Liberals - with their series of scandals from the McGuinty era - at doing what the Liberals do. The NDP isn't trying to bring in radical change that pushes the province in a progressive direction. They instead are going to manage our tax dollars better, manage our government better, have less scandals, and so on. That is, they are going to be the centre-left party better than the Liberals. At best, for progressives, is the hope that they will also be just a bit more to the left of the Liberals while being, if one believes the claim, better managers than the Liberals.

This strategy ties their hand on the ability to make big, bold policy proposals. If the NDP tries to push the kind of bigger progressive policy transformations I might like, they risk frightening away centrist voters, risk being pegged as big spending socialists who will wreck the economy. Ergo, we have this relatively small, relatively centrist platform.

Is it a good strategy?
This strategy is, at least, a coherent one. It makes sense why they chose it. However, I don't believe it is the best strategy for them. I have always believed that running on strong progressive issues is a winning strategy. We have seen time and time against in the US where Democrats, scared of Republicans, run these timid centrist campaigns only to lose to far right ideologues.

While polls don't seem to indicate it is likely, I can see the arguments for why they thought they could win by painting themselves as a moderate less scandalized version of the Liberals that would bring small tweaks to reduce costs of voters and increase popular programs like education, healthcare and infrastructure a little bit, financed by a measly 1% corporate tax increase and unspecified spending reduction. It gives people dissatisfied with the Liberals an easy option to jump for.

This kind of treading water hoping for favorable conditions is not, however, my idea of the best strategy for chronic third parties. They need to provide a strong reason for people to jump ship and vote for them. They need a strong platform that people like so much they choose to vote for them on the merits of the platform, not just as an palatable alternative to dissatisfaction with the Liberals.

Rightly or wrongly - and I abhor his plan - Hudak has taken the strategy of a big plan with significant changes to our society. While I think his "Million Jobs Plan" is a pernicious lie that at best won't come remotely close to his claims and at worse will be disastrous for the economy and people of Ontario, nobody can deny that it is really doing something. 100,000 people fired from the government service, 30% corporate tax cut, ending the 30% tuition tax credit, and so on. It is a big plan, and there will be voters who will vote for it. While I wouldn't want the NDP to even begin modeling their plan off of Hudak's, embracing the strategy of having a big plan could have been a winning strategy.

It is always pleasant when what I hope - a strong progressive plan - coincides with what I believe is their best strategy. The upper echelons of the ONDP apparently disagree with me on the latter point, if not the first. While we won't ever know for sure the counterfactual of what would have happened if the ONDP took my election advice, I think we shall see soon enough that their strategy was, if nothing else, insufficient.

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