May 28, 2014 3:47 pm

Horwath’s past support of Liberals could hurt NDP at the polls

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath delivers her campaign platform during a campaign stop in Toronto on Thursday, May 22, 2014.

CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Much has been made of the slow start and underwhelming nature of Andrea Horwath’s campaign in the Ontario provincial election.

For many it seems like an anti-climactic reversal, for a party that formed the pivot in the previous minority legislature and had substantial influence on the budgets and policy-making. Unfortunately for her, that influence does not extend to an appreciation from the voting populace.

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There is an abundance of evidence that third parties who support governments in minority parliaments are punished, not rewarded by voters in the subsequent election. Credit for that government’s policy accomplishments seems to accrue to the larger party, while those critical of the arrangement tend to blame the third party.

This is what happened to the federal NDP in the 1974 election as well as the 1987 Ontario election, when David Lewis and Bob Rae respectively had achieved considerable policy influence in supporting the administrations of Pierre Trudeau and David Peterson in the previous legislatures. A more contemporary example is provided by the fate of Britain’s Liberal Democrats. Since entering into an arrangement to support David Cameron’s Conservative government, they have also tumbled in the polls.

In depth: Ontario Election 2014

This dilemma underscored the decision facing Andrea Horwath when she had to determine whether to continue propping up Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government for another year.

On the one hand she had enormous leverage over the Liberals on policy decisions but at the same time each passing month enhanced the impression that the NDP had little independent stature, and were merely shills for the Liberals. Moreover an Ontario election was inevitable within another year anyhow, as a federal vote was legally mandated for the fall of 2015. There are plenty of old-timers in the party nostalgic for the ideological purity of yesteryear, when the NDP had virtually no influence in parliament. They are fronted by Judy Rebick and Michelle Landsberg, who seem sublimely unaware of the political trap Horwath was facing.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, clearly aware of the challenges facing the NDP leader, was cheerfully embracing every leftist policy whim she could imagine hook, line and sinker, so as to render Horwath’s plight that much more excruciating.

Even for those sympathetic to her predicament, it must be acknowledged that for someone who effectively triggered the election, Horwath didn’t exactly hit the ground running. Indeed as the party leader with the highest personal popularity ratings, she seems to have run a lacklustre, uninspiring campaign. But then, so has everyone else.

The only really memorable issue thus far, has been Tim Hudak’s pledge to eliminate 100,000 government jobs. This has resonated in an election where little else has, and not to the Conservatives’ benefit. Despite the above concerns, the New Democratic polling performance has ranged from 20 per cent to 28 per cent, and seems very much in line with their 2011 record of 22.7 per cent.

In fact the Liberal and Conservative totals are also reminiscent of the last election, and current seat projections suggest a very similar result.

Dr. Barry Kay is a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University. 

© Shaw Media, 2014

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