For most of her adult life Judy Rebick has been a passionate campaigner for social justice, often in the streets carrying picket signs. In all that time she was a reliable NDP supporter, even running for the party in one election.
But in a recent conversation about social media she told me she was thinking of creating a new twitter hashtag: #wherestheondp?
“I know lots of people who have ripped up their cards, decided not to donate and they’re even considering not voting.”
The disillusion comes partly from the decision to defeat a Liberal budget that was chock full of progressive measures, including an Ontario pension plan and new spending on social programs. There is also anger that NDP leader Andrea Horwath hit the campaign trail promising to appoint a minister in charge of finding $600 million in government savings.
“There’s a lot of people around the cabinet table whose job it is to spend the money. What I want is someone there who’ll save the pennies,” she said in announcing her idea.
In Depth: Ontario Election 2014
It was a jaw-dropper for organized labour, which sees only job cuts in finding those kinds of savings.
“It’s a populist agenda, moving away from our social democratic roots,” said Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, himself a five time candidate for the New Democrats.
He could not quite bring himself to endorse the Liberals, but said he and other labour leaders are encouraging what he calls “smart voting,” which most of us would know better as ‘strategic voting.’
The idea is to support NDP incumbents who have a real chance of victory but otherwise voting Liberal because the larger goal for organized labour is to ensure that PC Leader Tim Hudak does not come to power and carry through with his promise to slash 100,000 civil service jobs.
“The outcome of it could be so detrimental to the future of labour that people are now beginning to say, ‘am I going to be placing resources, scarce resources, into ridings where the NDP don’t have a chance of winning? And they’re coming to the conclusion, no I’m not,” Ryan said.
Ryan told me that he has seen polls that put NDP candidates in deep trouble in Toronto, even Rosario Marchese, who has represented Trinity Spadina since 1990–the longest-serving New Democrat in the city.
Marchese shrugged off the suggestion that he is behind, not that any politician would ever admit it in the middle of a campaign.
“I think that we’re doing well,” he told me outside his campaign office, in the west-end neighbourhood where he grew up.
He insisted that the NDP is still a party that stands for social justice.
“As you try to broaden the base, try to speak to people across Ontario, some people will feel that we’ve changed the message. The message is always the same.”
It is a gamble for the New Democrats of Andrea Horwath: to reach out to new supporters, while hoping outraged stalwarts will not opt to hold their nose and vote Liberal or worse, stay home and facilitate the election of a PC government.