The once mighty Ontario Liberals have collapsed. Fourteen years of corruption, mismanagement and austerity have left the people of Ontario exhausted. A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute put Kathleen Wynne’s approval rating at an abysmal 12 per cent. Disapproval is at 81 per cent, or nearly 7 times her approval rating. A more recent poll by Forum put her approval even lower, with only 9 per cent saying she would make the best premier. This makes her less popular than former Premier Dalton McGuinty (also known as Dalton “McGuilty”) before he resigned.
Despite this, Wynne says she will remain party leader until the next provincial election in 2018. She is at odds with an increasing number of Liberal Party apparatchiks who want her gone. They are hoping to save themselves at her expense. One of these is former party president Greg Sorbara – the first senior figure to call for her resignation. Sorbara admits that "there's a whole lot of people in the Ontario Liberal party who think that it's all over.” He went on to say that it’s “extremely unlikely” she will win in 2018, and asked “whether given that scenario, it's better to step down before the next election. The (polling) numbers do not lie and the ability to win the next election is in grave, grave doubt." There is no denying that others share his opinion.
Unfortunately for Sorbara, the Liberal Party has fared just as poorly as their embattled leader. In the same Forum poll, the Liberals sat at only 19 per cent, putting them third behind the Conservatives and the NDP. If an election were held today, the Liberals would win so few seats that they would not even qualify for official party status. This represents a humiliating decline for a party which was awarded a majority government in the last election.
But this is hardly surprising given their record in power. In just three years, the Liberals have overseen the highly unpopular privatization of Hydro One, an unprecedented increase in hydro rates, a lack of affordable housing, bribery charges against party officials, deep cuts to social services, a ballooning provincial debt, handouts to corporations… and the list goes on. It is hard to imagine how this party was offered as the “progressive” option in the 2014 election. Whoever holds this view today is either delusional or on the Liberal Party payroll – and even then it’s rare.
The Toronto Sun compares the Liberals with the Titanic after it hit an iceberg. Yes, if after hitting the iceberg it reversed, hit it again, reversed, and then hit it a final time before sinking. Whether Wynne remains at the helm or not is inconsequential. The entire Liberal Party is seen as out of touch. Their friends are few. Their enemies, everyday working class people, number in the millions. They are eager to settle accounts after 14 years of Liberal rule.
As of now, this pent up anger has yet to find an expression. Of the current party leaders in Ontario, the most popular is “none” at 30 per cent. Conservative leader Patrick Brown sits behind at 23 per cent, and NDP leader Andrea Horwath at 22 per cent. In terms of party support (where “none” is not an available option), the Conservatives sit at 43 per cent and the NDP at 28 per cent. If an election were held today, the Conservatives would form a majority government. But this should not be seen as a lurch to the right. Polls continue to show that many people still don’t know who Patrick Brown is or what he stands for – only that he is not Kathleen Wynne. Above all, people want the Liberals gone.
Why hasn't the NDP performed better under these circumstances? Popular support for the Conservatives is no answer, since their leader is largely unknown. In truth, the leadership of the NDP has only itself to blame. In 2014, they prided themselves as being "fiscally responsible," going so far as to pledge $600 million in budget cuts. This allowed the Liberals to outflank them on the left (in words only!) and win the election.
This formula, which proved to be a failure for the NDP in 2014, is a hundred times more disastrous today. Since then, workers have been straddled between low wages on the one hand, and an obscene cost of living on the other. Even the Liberal Finance Minister admits that people in Ontario are "pissed." Where they demand "real change," the NDP has instead offered them "some change, real slow." Instead of a “revolution against the billionaire class,” they get that dreaded word – “moderation.”
Their stance on Hydro One is just one example. The NDP position includes opposition to the sale, a moderate cut to hydro rates, and re-nationalization. The first two points are hardly ambitious, since they are also shared by the Conservatives and Liberals, respectively. Horwath has criticized the Liberal rate cut, not because it is too modest, but because it doesn't apply to "medium-sized businesses"! One would expect this criticism from the Conservatives, but it is shocking coming from the NDP.
Even the plan for re-nationalization leaves much to be desired. As of now, Horwath intends to repurchase the shares in Hydro One, presumably at market value. This means that taxpayers would be asked to buy out the millionaire shareholders of Hydro One at an inflated cost, just for the courtesy of having the asset returned to its original owner. This is no more than giving with one hand and taking with the other. But why should workers be asked to repurchase something they never wanted sold in the first place? The NDP has yet to answer this.
The rest of the party program is no less disappointing. A full year after the Ontario Liberals and Canadian Federation of Students came behind the idea of “free education,” the NDP has still chosen not to. All the party has on offer is “interest-free student loans,” as if Andrea Horwath had been living under a rock for the past year. But it’s not only the Liberals which have outflanked the NDP. As far as corporate subsidies are concerned, even Kevin O’Leary and Maxime Bernier, who are running for the Conservative Party, at times sound more radical than the NDP. This begs the question: how is it that an actual capitalist like O’Leary can oppose all corporate welfare, but the NDP cannot? Once again, the NDP has no answer.
The party has held its ground on affordable housing, but even then just barely. The NDP wants to impose “rent control guidelines” on all units in the province, meaning that landlords will be limited to raising rents at about 1.5 per cent per year. But rent is already too expensive. Since last year, the average selling price for all properties in the Greater Toronto Area has increased by 33.2 per cent. A 1.5 per cent limit (which already exists for units built before 1991) is like using a Band-Aid to heal a gunshot wound.
Each of these policies share a few common themes: half-heartedness, fearfulness, cynicism, and yes, even sheer stupidity. We remind the NDP leadership: the “centre-ground” you want to occupy no longer exists. Capitalism is polarizing society to the left and to the right. On the one side stands working people, and on the other stands the bankers, bureaucrats and career politicians. You cannot satisfy them both. Not just the Liberal Party, but the entire establishment has become discredited. The NDP must ask itself: are we against the establishment, or are we part of it? Are we socialists, or are we “moderates”?
Horwath herself admits that “we’re at a tipping point in Ontario and we’ve got to take bold action.” We agree, but talk is cheap! “Bold action” is putting the needs of working people before the needs of millionaires. “Bold action” is calling for the expropriation of the banks, energy producers and big landlords that are cheating working people. This sort of bold, anti-establishment message is exactly what the party lacks. It must adopt it to prevent a Conservative government in Ontario, and reverse the Liberal nightmare. Otherwise it too will collapse.