ANNAN, ON, May 4, 2014/ Troy Media/ – The chattering class in Ontario – mass media, political scientists and traditional opinion leaders – was quick to question Andrea Horwath’s rejection of Ontario’s now stillborn $12.5-billion deficit budget.
In a news conference last week at which she and her caucus repudiated Kathy Wynne’s Liberal government, reporters took the storyline that Horwath was spurning a dream left-wing budget.
One journalist even invoked the memory of Tommy Douglas, implying that Horwath was disloyal to an NDP icon. “You and many members of your caucus will not be here after the election” threatened an alpha-male in the media pack.
However, something else entirely was taking place.
While Horwath, the waitress from Hamilton, was taking the familiar Tommy Douglas-like populist stand of the ordinary citizen defying established power by placing her future in the hands of the voters, she also made the June election hers to lose.
By bringing down the government, Horwath wasn’t rejecting the social responsibility ideas that Finance Minister Chuck Sousa espoused in his budget. She was actually rejecting the budgeters rather than the ideas presented in the budget.
Sousa and Wynne, she said, were throwing “everything and the kitchen sink” into the budget. But, she added, coming from the same people who decided in a couple of days to cancel two gas-fired power plants to retain two seats in the last election and failed to deliver on social commitments in the 2013 budget such as shorter wait times for seniors home care, their promises were empty.
Like Douglas, who never ran a deficit while Premier of Saskatchewan because he knew that his province’s practical farmers would never stand for debt financing, Horwath does not want additional borrowing or new taxes, except for a modest increase in corporate tax rates.
Horwarth maintained that the NDP’s loss of confidence in the Liberal government reached a tipping point not because of any one scandal but because of a pattern of corruption followed by a cover-up. She said she was also rejecting the taint of a culture of entitlement which permeated the government, such as the CEO of Hydro One raising rates while getting a bonus larger than many Ontarians make in a year.
“It is time,” she said at her press conference, ‘for Premier Wynne to take responsibility.”
Her loss of confidence in the Liberal government and her party’s decision to vote against the budget is reminiscent of the populism of the progressive farmer’s movement in Ontario in the 1920s. “I am quite willing,” she said as her press conference ended, “to put this in the hands of the people, and I will support their decision.”
Wynne and Official Opposition leader Tim Hudak were caught by surprise by Horwath’s decision to pull the plug. They have been clawing each other’s eyes out all winter under the assumption that the timing of the election was up to them.
If Horwath communicates her message – that the Liberals make empty promises and can’t be trusted – effectively, she may be able to neutralize the Liberal’s attempt, with this budget, to draw off support from the NDP so it could form a majority government. She could also end up positioning her party as the genuine progressive force in Ontario, and a definite alternative to either the Liberals or Conservatives.
While the smart money is on yet another Liberal minority government, Horwath may have upset the dismal balance, and may run up the middle to form her own minority, or better, government.
Frank Dabbs is a veteran business and political journalist, author of three biographies and a contributor, researcher or editor of half a dozen books. Frank worked in print, radio and television in Alberta for 40 years. Since 2006, he has been a print and television freelancer in Ontario. He lives in the rural village of Annan overlooking Georgian Bay.
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