Ontario election blues, May 22 .. Is there any chance Andrea Horwath’s New New Democrat strategy is working?

May 22nd, 2014 | By Dominic Berry | Category: In Brief

The auction of a genuine Ontario flag (courtesy of MPP John Yakabuski) to help support a community group in Deep River, two hours north and west of Ottawa.

Despite our alleged provincial flag, we don’t follow British politics across the pond the way we used to, in 21st century Ontario. If we did, we wouldn’t be so perplexed by the shift in direction Andrea Horwath is finally trying to bring to our regional (local?) social democrats. (See, eg: “Ontario election: Traditional NDP supporters disgruntled by new policies.”) We’d just say it’s only a somewhat late (as usual) neo-colonial emulation of Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK, 1997-2010 (or, if you are a Blairite purist apparently, just 1997-2007).

In any event, yesterday (two weeks after the writs were dropped, as some still want to say) was the first day for legal advertising in the June 12, 2014 Ontario general election campaign. Personally I like the idea of banning “ad campaigns on television, radio and in print” for the first two weeks of a general election campaign. It is one of the things that make me think we haven’t quite lost all of our ancient talent for the real world in Canada’s most populous province.

It is also true that : “Imposed by Ontario’s chief electoral officer, the ban put a moratorium on paid print and broadcast ads but did not apply to online messages, where the parties have been posting video ads since the campaign kicked off.” Even so, there are those traditionalists who say that the advent of “ paid print and broadcast ads” is suddenly unleashing a new wave of deadpan seriousness in what remains on so many fronts an unusually  mysterious election campaign, etc, etc. The players have just been playing  with dining hall buns so far. Now the knives are out. And we will see them in combat on the duelling paid print and broadcast ads.(And won’t that be fun!)

Prime Minister Tony Blair chats with later Murdoch media bad girl Rebekah Brooks when both were at the tops of their careers, October 26, 2004.

Wherever else this new phase of things may finally lead, it has already started to clarify just what Andrea Horwath’s as yet also rather mysterious Ontario adaptation of Tony Blair’s New Labour will entail, in all its regional northern North American particularity. As explained on the CBC News site : “The NDP made an unusual move Wednesday [May 21], taking out a full-page ad that wraps around the front of the conservative Toronto Sun newspaper. The ad, designed to resemble a Sun front page, has an image of both Wynne and Hudak with a headline that says ‘nonsense.’ …  The back page of the ad touts Leader Andrea Horwath’s plan to cut small business taxes, lower rates for auto insurance and cut public-sector CEO salaries … Party strategists told the Canadian Press that the NDP are trying to target undecided voters with the ad, particularly those who have voted Conservative in the past but don’t like Hudak or his policies.”


Why I at least think New Labour can’t work in Ontario today

Andrea Horwath and some of her Hamilton area friends.

I don’t mind confessing that I am a New New Democrat strategy sceptic myself. As are more than a few traditional supporters of the Ontario New Democrats of my acquaintance themselves.

Similarly, I may be among the last Canadian generation (new, old, and aboriginal) to seriously believe that vainly trying to emulate the noble and other British pioneers of parliamentary democracy — since the middle of the 19th century — has done this and other parts of Canada quite a lot of good. In the year 2014 many and probably most of us are almost certainly growing away from all this, for an assortment of good reasons. But, for better or worse, I do still seem to believe in it myself, or in what might be called the sensible parts at least.

I also think that in Ontario today, on the other hand (and especially for the future), we need to grow beyond our British North American heritage in a more active and deliberate way, if we really want to meet the serious enough challenges we face, and continue to prosper, as we must, etc, etc, etc. (world without end)

With all this in mind, I don’t finally think Tony Blair’s New Labour  Zeitgeist has much to tell us in any part of Canada in the year 2014. And history being so often a cruel or at least indifferent master and mistress, Tony Blair himself may finally be best remembered for having followed George W. Bush into the morass of the Iraq War.

(Something we avoided in Canada, thanks to Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a Liberal from Quebec, home of the first people who called themselves Canadians — and also the Quebecois nation in a united Canada today and all that, of course.)

Three attorney generals : Roy McMutry from Ontario (l), Jean Chretien from Pierre Trudeau’s federal government (c), and Roy Romanow from Saskatchewan (r) — helping to forge what finally became the “patriated” Constitution Act, 1982, in the late fall of 1981.

To her credit, Andrea Horwath in Ontario has not at all overtly appealed to Tony Blair’s New Labour or any such thing. (That would be too abjectly neo-colonial. We keep telling ourselves that we have already grown beyond all that. But then the melody lingers on, and  on, etc.)

We at least pretend that we Canadians nowadays are guiding our own minds. As Ms Horwath has just told Susanna Kelley, in a campaign-bus interview at ontarionewswatch.com, she “would model herself after moderate former Premiers Roy Romanow and Gary Doer if she became Premier.”

(I’ve just sharpened up my own vague memories on Google. Roy Romanow was the New Democratic Premier of Saskatchewan, 1991–2001. Gary Doer was the New Democratic Premier of Manitoba, 1999–2009. He resigned to accept an appointment as Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, from the Conservative federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper.).

But … is it the other wild and crazy Ontario option in 2014 anyway ????

US President Barack Obama at the White House with Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer during the credentials ceremony for newly appointed ambassadors to the United States, 4 November 2009.

Regardless of who or what the ultimate original inspiration may be, it does seem that Andrea Horwath is trying to turn the Ontario NDP into a political party (as the Torontonian Judy Rebick , a “passionate campaigner for social justice” and one-time NDP candidate, has put the point recently) “to the right of the Liberals.”

Like others too, I am sceptical about how well this kind of “lean-conservative/Red Tory”NDP strategy can work, apart from anything else. It may have some particular roots in Andrea Horwath’s past in the Great Lakes heavy industrial city of Hamilton, Ontario — a kind of conservative labour town. There are certainly strands in the history of both the NDP and its Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) ancestor which blow in various vaguely conservative directions. But I find it hard to see how all this can be brought into the mainstream of things, in a party whose most vital organs have to be progressive, not conservative.

Of course again, however, one of the wonderful things about democratic politics is that anyone can always be wrong. And virtually everyone is wrong at some point, on some days, and at some times in the afternoon, morning, or night.

Even more importantly, the latest Abacus poll on the current state of Ontario’s present very volatile public opinion does show at least some evidence for the view that Andrea Horwath’s New New Democrat strategy just may be starting to work, a little better than most seem to think right now. According to this local Delphic Oracle, the Ontario Liberals and Conservatives are currently tied at 33% each, with the New Democrats not that far back at 26%.

Compare this 26% with the 24% and even 21% the NDP has garnered in earlier polls, and you can see some modest argument that public support for the Ontario New Democrats has been increasing a little lately. In polling over the last few months there has also been at least one survey I can recall  where the New Democrats were in second, not third place. It arguably shouldn’t be that big a surprise if the Horwath New Democrats suddenly do burst into some state of polling equality with the Liberals and Conservatives, over the next week or so.

At the same time, you probably have to have more of the social democratic faith that passeth all understanding than I do to take this kind of speculation all that seriously right now. And the same goes, to some higher power, for any thoughts that once all three main parties are almost equal in support (if that does actually happen, soon enough), our first-past-the-post electoral system just might finally half-sweep a Horwath New New Democrat minority government into office at Queen’s Park.

What I finally seem to feel myself is this : We already live in an Ontario political world where rational people of all partisan persuasions have to accept the wild and crazy prospect of a rather rabid right-wing Hudak Conservative majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote on June 12. And in this world I find it somewhat comforting to entertain the no doubt less likely but not entirely improbable wild and crazy prospect of a conservative social democrat Horwath NDP minority government at Queen’s Park this summer.

(Even as I fervently hope, and even pray [well, sort of], that neither of these wild and crazy prospects ever actually sees the light of day. And for the moment I do retain some serious conviction that they never will. But if I have to pick between the two …. well …  even certain well enough known conservatives these days are saying publicly that they won’t be able to vote for Mr. Hudak’s new brand. And, of course again, who knows just what that really means, in this so far quite confusing — and interesting — provincial election campaign, in at least one of the various Canadian lands of lakes and forests, up here in We the North, where the Northern Uprising is still apparently trying to figure out what it’s supposed to be all about ??????)

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