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Horwath ties NDP to Liberal austerity budget

May 27, 2013

By tying the NDP to the Liberal’s austerity budget, Andrea Horwath has missed a chance to help build a movement to confront Tim Hudak, and undermined the NDP’s next electoral fight.
The Ontario Liberals have imposed a brutal austerity regime—attacking workers and the poor, and slashing public services. Ontario Tory leader Tim Hudak has threatened to turn the resulting anger into a right-wing response that would continue similar policies.
In 2011 Hudak was derailed by the mass protests against Toronto mayor Rob Ford, turning Ford into such a liability that he was not allowed to openly endorse Hudak. This in the wake of the Orange Wave that catapulted the federal NDP into opposition based on hope for an alternative to neoliberalism and austerity. But much of the NDP leadership federally and provincially drew the opposite conclusion, that their electoral victories are based on pushing the party to the centre.
So Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath didn’t challenge Hudak on his racism to “foreign workers”, declared a “buy Ontario” campaign opposing Quebec, avoided environmental issues, and spent much of her time providing reassurances that she would balance the budget—freezing tuition fees and transit fares at the inaccessible levels to which the Liberals had raised them.
The result: the 2012 election had the lowest voter turnout in Ontario history, with no change to the combined Tory-Liberal vote, and the NDP only gaining votes from the greens. Some new NDP MPPs had roots in progressive movements, like Jonah Schein, and outside the legislature opposition to austerity continued with the inspiring Occupy movement, student protests and occupations against tuition hikes, and 20,000 workers marching on Queen’s Park demanding taxes on the rich, corporations and banks.
The Ontario NDP could have magnified the movements and turned an election into a referendum against austerity, exposing both Liberals and Tories. But instead Horwath counterposed the ballot box and the streets and supported McGuinty’s budget with minor tweaks: a 2 per cent tax on the rich that goes straight to the banks for the deficit, and transferring money to child care, hospitals and social assistance from education and health care.
Then McGuinty declared war on the teachers with Bill 115, triggering high school walkouts supporting the teachers. The Liberals lost their seat in Kitchener-Waterloo in a by-election seen as a referendum on Bill 115. But overall the NDP leadership did not campaign against Bill 115, allowing Tim Hudak to carve out an even more reactionary position against workers.
With falling support and mounting scandals, McGuinty prorogued Parliament until the Liberal convention—and cynically lifted Bill 115 just beforehand. Thirty thousand people marched on the Liberal convention on January 26, with 125 buses from across the province—in the Rally for Rights and Democracy organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour. But Horwath didn’t bother showing up.
Despite attacking people on social assistance and people with disabilities, the Liberals are trying to coalesce the anti-Tory vote around Kathleen Wynne. Horwath is providing a progressive cover to the Liberals by twice supporting their budget—again with tiny tweaks like a small reduction in auto insurance premiums, some funding for youth jobs and homecare, and a financial accountability officer. But what’s the point of keeping track of endless attacks on jobs and services if you’re not going to significantly challenge them?
Horwath is in a vicious cycle of supporting the Liberals to avoid an election, and by supporting them undermining the NDP’s chances the next election. To challenge the Tories we need to expose the Liberals and build a rank-and-file movement to fight austerity—working with NDP activists to push their party leadership to magnify the movements outside the legislature instead of trying to contain them within it.

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