Politics - Provincial

Horwath's NDP: Striving for Mediocrity

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published March 09, 2009

On paper, Andrea Horvath's win in the Ontario NDP leadership convention might sound somewhat exciting and it might make Hamiltonians proud that a former Hamilton City Councillor is now the leader of the Ontario NDP.

Most City Councillors have dreams of leaving the bush leagues of politics for a shot in the majors of provincial and federal office. Recall Councillor Sam Merulla seeking the NDP nomination in 2007 for the new provincial riding of Hamilton East - Stoney Creek (he lost to Paul Miller).

I was never a fan of Horwath's style of politics. As a council member, she spoke words but said nothing. It was the usual boilerplate politics, "it's definitely possible that we could consider looking into a realistic solution going forward" - just fill in the blank for the issue.

There was nothing inspirational from an Hamilton NDP convention. It was a missed opportunity to present a new New Democratic Party to the province, one that would no longer be content being the 'third party'.

The policies were the same predictable positions: fighting for organized labour, free daycare for two-income families, the usual environmental rhetoric will no real solution, thrown in with something about scabs, working-class families and evil rich people.

There was nothing substantial about support for non-union workers, real energy solutions, addressing a changing economy, support for one/single working parent families, support for small business, urban concerns, and the fact that the middle-class has been increasingly earning its wages outside of factories.

Will middle-class, white-collar workers be included in Horwath's same old NDP? Or is one not working-class if one doesn't wear earplugs or a hard hat on the job?

Workers' rights are already law. What if they don't want to join a union, will the NDP still protect their rights? Or by "rights" do they mean the right to join a labour union?

Apparently the NDP prefers to cling to an old class war between the proletariat and the bourgeois. It's as if the Party doesn't even try to win elections anymore. Horwath has said that her goal is merely to strive for 20-25 percent of the popular vote.

Attacking Premier Dalton McGuinty's policies and then copying them - albeit with a socialist twist - won't win elections. Last time I checked, McGuinty is already making light rail and transit a priority.

Not having any new inventive strategies for the environment and the changing economy won't win elections either. McGuinty is at least testing new ideas for health care, ideas that might work out for the better.

What about wind-farms, solar panels for all new homes, solar grants for existing homes, protecting the Greenbelt and Places to Grow Act, and transitioning Ontario's manufacturing economy to be modern and more diverse?

Instead of auto bailouts, how about loans for creating a true Ontario environmental automobile, not just supporting US branch plants that are at the mercy of Detroit's decisions? How about restoring Ontario's aerospace industry?

If choosing the same platform every four years is the strategy, they will always be the third party.

The NDP could have chose to reinvent themselves with more relevancy and the creative thinking that is expected from a third party. The right ones will resonate with the electorate; take Obama as an example.

The days of stubborn left-wing versus right-wing, worker versus manager or rich versus poor are over. What we need is a political party that chooses to do the right thing for the province and its citizens and to lead it into a prosperous sustainable future. Not a Party that serves itself by grandstanding on issues to pose as fighters.

Horwath said, "Voters shouldn't expect any dramatic changes from the Hampton years." This is not a new beginning, only a burned-out torch being passed, a torch that could only be expected to smolder for another eight-ish years.

Unfortunately, the trail-blazing, creative roots of the NDP/CCF are lost today in career politicians that strive for mediocrity.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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By It's not the band I hate - it's (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:03:15

You are frustrated, but you are also unrealistic. The NDP is incapable of doing what you ask. They are hamstrung by their labour ties for sure, but the alternative is far less appealing and more likely to make the party irrelevant. The Ontario NDP is forced to play repetitious overtures to organized labour because the unions are the only reliable support they have. Full stop. Unions pay their members an allowance to work on election campaigns. Unions donate to the party en masse. At the provincial level, the NDP will never trade that support away to pursue an audience of apathetic voters whose core motivation is that they believe the party is too boring and too content with third place status.

Fair-weather NDP supporters who implore the party to take a nuanced approach to "middle-class, white collar issues" (whatever those are), are unreliable and far less likely to donate time or money to the party. (How much did you give last year Trey?)

To pursue your support at the expense of the labour vote would be political suicide for the NDP. And it would be a trade-off. You can't win the support of both. Each side views the others' issues as a compromise of their own idealistic view of politics. It's sad really. The Unions threaten to abandon the NDP for losing focus, while guys like you complain that the party isn't inventive enough to win your vote.

The more I think about this predicament, the more I respect Horwath's decision to preserve her party's unique voice in the legislature by targeting only a modest 20-25% of the electorate. At least she realizes the situation. You don’t get it, and sad to say, you are the best and brightest of the NDP's potential supporters outside of the unions. The NDP frustrates you? Imagine how they feel.

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By KFAS (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:04:57

I tend to agree, Trey.

I agree with the NDP platform on many levels, but the pandering to organized labour is a turn-off. Maybe there was a time when unions represented the lower-class, but no more. It's time for the NDP to shift their focus to some of the issues you outlined.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:24:27

Why does broadening their appeal mean the NDP loses its core union support?

Middle-class, white collar workers are the workers I mentioned, the increasing group of workers that don't work in a large manufacturing factory or a mine. But the Walmart workers, the workers in the boxes along the 400 highway service roads, the food and beverage servers, maybe it was incorrect to call them 'white collar' but they're not traditional manufacturing jobs. And in many ways these workers need the protection more then the steelworks and autoworkers. But I sense its not viable or worth their effort to protect 25 workers at one siding manufacturer on the south service road or the 12 workers at a window and door company, or the 4 contracted roofers. The NDP can continue to focus on the disappearing large single industry workers if they choose but it's a lost cause, and ultimately if their funding is dependent on them then their funding as it stands is unsustainable.

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By Action Jackson (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:36:37

I'd love to see a new unionization drive in Ontario. All the growth areas of employment "service jobs" are almost all non unionized with crappy wages no benefits and no job security.

Everyone blames the unions for making labour too expensive but the fact is the unions are why we have a middle class at all, suddenly people (making more money) could afford to buy stuff and the companies sales could grow beyond the rich.

That was what Henry Ford did but most companies didn't go along with him, it was the unions that had to drag the companies into the mid 20th century.

Think about it, as more of our jobs have gone into "service" roles that's exactly the same time that our incomes stopped growing and started falling - without organized labour to keep pressure on wages and benefits we went backwards on them so you've got more people juggling two part time jobs to try and make ends meet.

All the things they're saying about why we "can't afford" to unionize the service sector is all the same things they said about how we "couldn't afford" to unionize manufacturing 50, 100 years ago. It was BS then and it's BS now.

If the NDP wants to make real gains they should focus on this. The best thing about service jobs is you can't offshore them (and with Peak Oil you won't be able to offshore manufacturing for much longer either). That would be good for workers and good for the economy (because people will have more money to spend).

In other words, they should get back to basics, a la what Horwath is talking about. She's just what the party needs right now, a young, energetic "back to the future" leader who can get the party back to its roots doing the things that made it successful in the first place.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:50:55

Good points about the future of unions.

But the NDP had nothing to do with the Workers' Rights Movement. It was solely achieved from Rank and File workers, without help from any government party. Horwath did not show any indication she intended to drive forward with a what would be a neo-workers' movement for the service industry.

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By Melville (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 13:08:15

Ah, union catering. Why is it non of our major parties support everyone, rather than specific interests? The Liberals and Conservatives represent Big Coporations. The NDP represent Big Unions, which, ironically, are also Big Corporations.

Hamilton hasn't learned anything from the Lister fiasco, and all the other LIUNA problems. That union bought up property in our downtown, and let the buildings go to waste because they wanted to trigger government subsidies to hire their own workers to fix their own buildings. They certainly didn't care about our downtown, our concerns. It's still all about the bottom line, still the same as any corporation once a union is that big.

If we are to have unions in the future that don't destroy in the same way corporations do, the CAW and others should dismantle themselves, and return to the small unions they once were.

The NDP would never support that, though. They'd lose their monolithic corporate donors that run their policy. Despite the fact that they say they support participatory democracy.

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By It's not the band I hate - it's (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 13:35:02

Why does broadening their appeal mean the NDP loses its core union support? I believe I answered that. Unions view many of the issues you raise as competition to their core interests. As Buzz Hargrove showed the federal NDP in the 2006 general election, union leadership (and financial support) is contingent, not de facto.

I should point out too, that union support is not the support of manufacturing workers and labour in general. It is organized political support from unions whose membership may include a much broader group than, as you put it...those who work in a factory or a mine. You have a very narrow view of who unions propose to represent.

Nonetheless, my point is this: if you are so dissatisfied with the NDP, why the need to make the party over?

The party enjoys vigorous support from a segement of the population with whom you propose to have little in common to begin with. It's like telling a girl you think is ugly to put on lipstick so more people will like her, but at the end of the day, you don't want to date her either.

Move on.

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By Younion (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 13:36:32

"Ah, union catering. Why is it non of our major parties support everyone, rather than specific interests? The Liberals and Conservatives represent Big Coporations. The NDP represent Big Unions, which, ironically, are also Big Corporations.

^^ Maybe because unions are how workers (most people, last time I checked) can ensure fair treatment in the workplace. We all bash on unions these days forgetting that we have comfortable, safe jobs BECAUSE of those unions - even when we're not unionized ourselves.

Anyone who's anti union is anti citizen, pretty much. Unions have always supported political parties that look out for the common person - just think, the worst thing that can happen for unions in a narrow sense is higher minimum wages and stronger labor laws, since that cuts into the reason for unions existance.

But they campaign for those things anyway. That's what makes them different for Corporations - they actually care about the common interest instead of just their own self-interest.

"Hamilton hasn't learned anything from the Lister fiasco, and all the other LIUNA problems."

Liuna aren't anything like a regular union, it's more like a front for organized crime, check out laborers.org for lots of ugly details.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 13:56:40

okay, we have separate UNIONS from the NDP. They are not interchangeable terms.

I didn't say only mine workers and steelworkers are in a union. I said the the NDP concerns itself with particular unions, more then other organized labour unions.

I'm not anti-union, i don't dismiss what Unions have done for middle-class citizens.

Unions are one issue and the NDP is another issue. I'm not sure what the NDP has done for me, but I'm very well aware of what Unions have done for me. See the difference?

Unions' accomplishments came from Rank and File workers, not from the NDP.

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By Younion (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 14:26:46

"I'm not anti-union, i don't dismiss what Unions have done for middle-class citizens."

But you think our labour laws are all hunky dory.

"Unions' accomplishments came from Rank and File workers, not from the NDP."

Unions' accomplishments came from engaging politically through both direct action and legislative change. Guess how they pursued legislative change? By supporting a political party (the CCF and then NDP) that supported the Rank and File workers. The NDP is why we have universal health care, labour laws that allow workers to form unions (lots of southern US states don't even have that), minimum wage laws, workplace safety laws, etc etc etc. You can't on the one hand credit the accomplishments of unions and on the other hand dismiss the accomplishments of the political party that the unions formed to argue their interests in the legislature.

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By ToryBlue (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 14:59:51

Except for the crap about McGuinty who has neve met a promise he didn't break, Trey and I are on the same page as far as Andrea is concerned. Qucik, name three things she did for Hamilton while on Council. Okay, how about two or even one!!!
Point made.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 15:56:02

I studied Labour Studies for 2 years at McMaster. The Workers' Rights Movement started in the 1880s, long before the NDP/CCF existed.

I have great respect for unions and their achievements, who wouldn't? But that doesn't have to translate directly into having great respect for the NDP. The NDP could disintegrate tomorrow and unions would still exist and accomplish things. However if unions no longer existed the NDP wouldn't, UNLESS they changed their position in the political theatre. I agree with the NDP's support for workers, but the NDP isn't just about labour issues. There are other fundamental NDP values outside of labour positions that I don't agree with. Abolishing the senate for one, and mandating balanced budgets is a core NDP value (at least it was) but they criticized Harper for not running a deficit for economic stimulus. Whatever gets votes I guess.

Workers' rights were achieved through rank and file direct action, protests, sometimes riots and by shutting down companies, putting themselves at harms risk, financially and even jailed. Legislative change eventually happened but It was Sir Wilfrid Laurier who allowed unions to be legal organizations.

One Big Union, the Wobblies, TLC, CLC, Knights of Labour etc did the work necessary to force change, regardless of the Party in charge. The only political party i can think of that was supportive in the early (at the time illegal) movement years to organize labour was the Communist Party of Canada.... CPC members were jailed after a raid on one of their meetings in Guelph. The point is the NDP bandwagons on populist issues and the strange thing is they don't win elections, even with taking populist positions.

I'm not aware of any problems that exist within our Labour Laws. Seriously. If you do, I'd like to know them.

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By Younion (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 16:32:39


Thanks for your partisan nothing. Your screen name is apt.

By the way, just a few of the things she did on council (the Spectator calls her "an influential councillor"):

1. Organized north end residents to agitate for change after Plastimet fire. (Followed up as an MPP with her private members bill that became the Bob Shaw Act.)

2. Solid Waste Management Master Plan task force chairperson - led to 65% trash diversion goal for city.

3. Pushed for more funding to build and maintain affordable housing and a coherent social housing policy.

4. Helped lay groundwork for "best city to raise a child" plan.

5. campaigned to reduce through truck traffic cutting up downtown neighbourhoods, esp. illegal truck traffic on Burlington st. near James.

6. Supported bike racks on buses and expanding network of bike lanes.

7. Early supporter of adaptive reuse for Lister block when others called for its demolition.

Of course, you would probably think these are all bad things, not ToryBlue enough for you. :P


"The Workers' Rights Movement started in the 1880s, long before the NDP/CCF existed. "

I never said the CCF/NDP invented the workers rights movement, I said the workers rights movement invented the CCF/NDP to promote workers rights through the political process.

Countries that have a labourbased political party are socially progressi ve (Canada, most of Europe), countries that don't have a labour based political party are socially regressive (United States).

Saying you support unions but not the NDP is like saying you support unions but not strikes.

Also notice that the NDP has been less relevent ever since they broke with the unions in the early 90's - they hardly have a raison d'etre unless they represent labour interests (including social justice and the environment) in the legislature.

If Horwath can win back the unions, that will be a huge accomplishment for the unions' traditional party. Strange you can't see that.

"I'm not aware of any problems that exist within our Labour Laws. Seriously. If you do, I'd like to know them."

Not enforced, hard to fight, no anti scab law, easy to outsource, do I need to go on?

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By ToryBlue (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 18:48:04

Right she did, Younion...all by herself. During the last election I read the pamphlets of almost all the municipal politicians..they all took credit for the same things....except for the Bob Shaw Act which was passed by the McGuinty government to curry favour with the fire fighters...don't get me started on that one! Andrea talks a good deal and spouts off the union rants..that's why they own her, hook line and sinker.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 21:07:56

Trey S: You are unware of problems with the labour law? Where have you been, living in a box?

The current labour laws are only effective, if they are enforced but for many workers, the law is not enforced, look at the temp market, look at workfare or Elect to Work policies, I take it you have never had to experience these yourself. How many workers have been denied stat holiday pay, overtime, holiday pay, EI, WSIB, you have no idea. I think you need to get out of your bubble a little. Never mind those who are trying to make the transition from social assistance, forced into a market where you rights are denied in many ways, it is the never ending cycle of poverty and despair. Yes, it is soooo beneficial and helpful to listen to some crappot not for profit worker telling you that you are not entitled to arbritation or grievance process over a health and safety issue which is clearly in the occupational ehalth and safety act and then to have the same worker trhreatening you to be cut off EI, or to have some so called social worker yapping at you" this is workfare, this is the way it is." How come no scrutiny of all these not for profits sectors, that deny people justice, so those at the top can earn mega bucks, I'm talking to you executive director types who demand your rights yet stomp on others!!

The system is a joke, it is full of endless programs that basically do not deal with many of the labour rights violations that go on out there and then one has deal with incompetant dufus, telling you, that you have no rights anyways. Yes go to a course to learn how to do a resume, yes go to a course to learn how to interview, what the hell does that have to do with anything when your employment rights have been violated?

Interestingly enough, did you know the Deb Mathews swooped into town today? It was almost laughable to hear her go on that she had no idea about the practises that have gone on in the temp market.

Even though the it is legislated law now that all temp workers are to be paid stat holdiay, how many workers in this market are actually going to be denied their rights, I would suspect many will be denied even though it is law. Too bad we do not have political leaders that actually have walked the walk before talking the talk.

Rights under the employment standards act and the occupational health and safety are not taught in the schools, which, leaves those, the youngest workers at a high risk of being denied their rights. Think of the young man who was crushed by the door at a local employer. Lack of training, lack of everything, yet all we hear is the voices of the "business lobby" calling for less rights everyday. What about the fact the even an employer who has five employees must allow for the other workers to have a fellow worker represent them on health and safety issues? How many workplaces do not allow workers this right? Many workers cannot afford a lawyer and there is no legal aid for employment issues anyway, so these workers are left at the behest of the system, which routinely does nothing anyways.

Though I will agree with you that the many of the rank and file before us, before the NDP, walked the line to win rights for all workers. Too bad many workers who are covered by union contract fail to see where others are being denied justice and they are at times the ones that do the denying. Actually in taking labour studies myself, I was quite upset to learn that many rank and file voted for the harris regime.

There needs to be a resurgence of all workers standing together, if all workers do not stand together for each other, then what is the point when only some are protected and others are not. This worker is tired of paying tax dollars for some rank and file to have rights, yet, they have no problem closing their eyes when other workers are denied their rights. Where is the justice in that?

Divide and conquer, or stand together in solidarity!

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By KFAS (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2009 at 11:15:00

Divide and conquer.

Yup, there's the union mantra.

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