While Wynne goes to the left, Hudak dives hard right
May 10, 2014

While Wynne goes to the left, Hudak dives hard right

You might have thought that Tim Hudak would have learned his lesson after his disastrous and short lived attempt to push his party towards US style union busting: going hard right in Ontario isn't a winning strategy.

Well, he is at it again with the first two major campaign announcement of the 2014 Ontario Election. Firstly, Hudak wants to cut 100,000 Ontario government jobs. Ironically, this is released on the same day that Canada loses 29,000 jobs, which helps put the number in perspective.

Secondly, Hudak wants a 30% reduction in the corporate tax rate. This is amongst a backdrop of declining corporate tax rate at the federal level and following the McGuinty government who also hacked away at the rate.

These policies seem like a horrible way to start an election campaign. Conservative politicians will, of course, propose tax cuts and spending cuts. But if you want to win an election, traditional advice would suggest that at the very least makes it appear that these are tax cuts that help out the actual voters, and that the spending cuts won't hurt them. This is why conservative campaigns usually make very clear the exact values of tax cuts that will help you, while leaving the spending cuts as rather amorphous things to do with efficiencies and waste.

Instead, the spending cuts are the ones given the clear numerical value: 100,000 real people will lose their jobs. And the benefits to you of the tax cuts? Well maybe some murky picture about how big corporations making more money is going to somehow trickle down. This is just terrible optics for the PCs.

This pair of policies positions Hudak as considerably further to the right than he really needs to be if he wanted to win a majority government. In my 2014 Ontario Election endorsement, I wrote that Wynne's budget represented a significant move to the left, one that those broadly on the left - such as myself - should endorse.

We expect, of course, the centrist party to be to the left of the conservative party. However, usually when one party moves in a particular direction, it gives more room for the other party to come in and claim and large swath of the political spectrum. We have seen, for instance, Democrats been pulled to the right as the Republicans dive far to the right. Having the parties tend in opposing direction is rarer and, for the most part, not good politics.

I have written before about the narrowing political spectrum, how on the longer term view the parties in Canada seem to be tending towards each other, and that this creates, particularly for the centrist Liberals, something of an identity crisis for them in this narrowing political spectrum. These moves in Ontario seems to be, if anything, an attempt to create a bit more space. However, with only limited space to begin with, something has to budge. With the Liberals going to the left (and the Conservatives irrelevantly for this point going to the right), what is the NDP to do? They are now much closer to the Liberals than before - so close I was advocating NDP supporters vote for the Liberals - and they have the choice of either remaining there or going, as I might hope they would, to the left.

Since I clearly think these proposals of Hudak are not just bad policies, but represent bad politics, why is he doing them? The first two major policy announcements of a campaign aren't just random trial balloons; these are the things he wants to run on. Someone in his team clearly disagrees with me and thinks they are good politics. However, I also think that everything we know about Hudak is that he is a genuine ideological conservative. He isn't faking it and spouting off right wing talking points because they represent an electoral advantage. He genuinely believes in slashing government jobs all over the place to be able to cut taxes on corporations. And when you surround yourself with people who believe likewise, you convince yourself that they are good politics as well. I think they are wrong, on both accounts.

Unfortunately, these mistakes by Hudak may not be enough to upset the tide. Warren Kinsella has the big correct answer, I think:
It’s not because Hudak committed ritual political suicide yesterday. It’s not because old-fart lefties are complaining that Horwath is too much of a centrist. It’s not because the horse race numbers show the Grits behind the Tories. 
The reason they are presently heading towards a big loss is this: change
I've now written a post apiece on his first two sentences. I think they are pretty true. But ultimately, it doesn't look like it matters. Hudak is starting his campaign terribly;  Horwath has been displaced by the Liberals; this should be great position for Wynne. But the sense that it is a time for change seems like it might be too strong to overcome. Should Hudak win, he is undoubtedly going to think he has a mandate for these horrible policy proposals. I'm not looking forward to it.

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