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From Ballot box

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Socialists and the Ontario election 2014

By B. Ross Ashley

One month ago, Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario, the Liberal successor to Dalton McGuinty, presented her proposal for a budget for the coming year. It was full of proposals which the Liberals thought ought to attract the support of the New Democrats in a minority government " they proposed to increase expenditures on education, create a provincial pension plan, all sorts of good left-liberal stuff.

The Liberals needed the NDP's support to survive in the Provincial Parliament, as they were in a minority situation, with only 48 seats in the House, as against 37 Progressive Conservatives and 21 New Democrats.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, considering that the government under Wynne and her predecessor McGuilty had not only failed to make good on promises in previous budgets, but had also mired the Government in one scandal after another, culminating in the costly cancellation of gas-fired power plants in suburban Mississauga to enable the Liberals to retain two seats in the previous election, decided not to support the new budget. So instead of introducing their proposed budget in the House, Ms Wynne met with the Lieutenant-Governor and asked for a dissolution and a general election, which was called for 12 June. Election campaigns happen quickly in this country.

Thing quickly got interesting. Horwath drew a lot of fire from the bourgeois press for not going along with the "progressive" proposals of the Liberals; and a week into the campaign a critical letter to the NDP leader from a group of 34 prominent sometime New Democrats was leaked to the press, raking her over the coals for not having capitulated once more to the Liberals as she had in previous budgets. The letter was signed by such Party luminaries as Michele Landsberg, partner of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, Judy Rebick, Cathy Crowe, Winnie Ng, etc. The 34 expressed their own anger at Horwath for not going along with "the most progressive budget in Ontario history", and accused her leadership team of trying to campaign to the right of the Liberals "by adopting a more moderate right-wing program focusing on balanced budgets, austerity or at least public service cuts and 'common sense.' " They threatened to withhold their votes and influence from the Party this time around, in effect backing the Liberals.

The Ontario Federation of Labour, which is the largest union federation in the country and the most important backer of the NDP, is split in its approach to this election too. My old union, the SEIU, is openly calling for "strategic voting", asking its members to vote for whoever stands a better chance of breating the Progressive Conservatives, who are running on a platform of massive retrenchments in government services, promising to lay off 100,000 public and para-public workers, cut corporate taxes and somehow create a million new jobs over the next eight years. Other unions are backing the NDP but critical of the leadership " for instance, the Federation and its president Sid Ryan were gearing up a campaign for a $14-an-hour minimum wage, but Horwath says she would raise the provincial minimum to only $12.

What is Horwath actually running on?

The Party's election platform is online at . It's populist, mild, includes tax concessions to small-business "job creators", and promises to cut Provincial expenditures by over a billion dollars by year 4 of an NDP government. Not a word about the proposals for a Provincial pension plan to supplement the Canada Pension Plan, although Horwath has criticised Wynne's pension proposal for including private plans as well as a public one. Horwath would take the sales tax off hydro power (electricity) and try to ameliorate increases in the price of natural gas and auto insurance " this last, twenty years after the last Ontario NDP government retracted its plan for provincial auto insurance.

Not a word in the plan about raising the minimum wage.

What attitudes are the various socialist groupings around the Party taking?

Socialist Alternative, the Canadian affiliate of the Committee for a Workers International, are calling on the unions, community groups and others on the left to mobilize to challenge the austerity agenda of the both Hudak and Wynne. If the unions and others were to campaign on two parallel fronts -- one, exposing the corruption and austerity of the Liberals and, two, alerting people to the real dangers of the Hudak's PC program -- it could have the effect of getting more New Democrats elected which would create a sense of confidence among Ontario's working class." See ; given that SAlt has had little presence in the Ontario NDP in the last few years -- they supported the tiny Socialist Party of Ontario the last time around -- it is difficult to see in practice how they will implement this.

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Born in the USA, living in Canada since 1968, I'm a Vietnam war resister, a revolutionary democratic socialist partisan of the Fourth International reproclaimed in 1993, a member of Canada's New Democratic Party, on the executive committee of (more...)

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