A candidate for major office with policies that appeal to the most progressive elements of the political left who is also the safe choice for so-called centrist strategic voters is kind of like a unicorn. It seems like Ontario may have found their unicorn in provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

According to a recent poll by Maclean’s and Pollara, Horwath and her party are in second place with 30% support. They trail frontrunner Doug Ford whose “Progressive” Conservatives are leading with 40% support, but are beating incumbent premier Kathleen Wynn whose Liberals are down to 23% support.

The writing is on the wall, or rather on everyone’s screens. Wynne can’t win. If you want to stop Ford Nation from taking over Queen’s Park, you have to vote NDP. Even right-leaning media are admitting Horwath won the first leaders’ debate.

Strategy Meets Solid Progressive Policy

So Horwath is the practical choice for those who don’t want to deal with a Ford at the provincial level. But what about those who see the Liberals as only a slightly less spiteful and ridiculous option than Doug?

Well, last time around, the NDP, under the same leader, desperately tried to position themselves as a watered-down version of the Liberals, to the chagrin of the party faithful. Now, the official ONDP Twitter account is posting stuff like this:

But they’re backing up the sassy tweets with a truly progressive platform that prioritizes universal dental and pharmacare, re-nationalizing Hydro One, turning student loans into grants, improving care for seniors by ending “hallway medicine” and raising taxes on the wealthiest people and corporations. Solid old-school NDP policies all, but the spin they put on some of them is just brilliant.

Bringing Hydro One “back into public hands” is coupled with an estimated 30% reduction in Hydro bills. Meanwhile, “creating thousands of student jobs” is the addendum to their plan to subsidize tuition.

But the best messaging, hands down, has got to be this:

“Protect middle class families by having the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations pay their fair share.”

They have successfully found a way to pitch a longstanding socialist solution to economic inequality as an appeal to the most coveted demographic for so-called moderates, the middle class.

More Left Through School and Weed

Another poll, this one by Forum Research, predicted a PC majority with the NDP as a “strong” Official Opposition. Since it doesn’t really matter how strong the opposition is in a Majority Government, the ONDP need to find a way to do just a bit better than predicted and overtake Ford or at least hold him to a Minority Government.

The only way for them to do that is to keep doing what they’ve been doing, just push a bit further. This is not the time to retreat back into old ways. Playing it safe, this time, means pushing the envelope more.

Horwath has her party’s traditional base back. Now she needs to mobilize new voters and get them excited enough not just to cast their ballot but to volunteer as well.

Proposing free tuition would be one way to do it. They could even announce how they plan to pay for it: with weed.

Seriously, I’m not kidding. Bear with me for a moment.

When cannabis becomes legal in Canada, Wynn plans to tightly control it through the LCBO. Ford, meanwhile, wants a free market, something that has garnered him support on the left.

The ONDP has remained pretty much silent on the subject and I understand why. Wynne’s position is extremely unpopular, especially among NDP supporters, but championing the free market just seems so un-NDP.

But in this case there is a third way. Have the government run medicinal marijuana and cover it as part of pharmacare but open up recreational pot sales to any business that successfully applies for a permit.

The government can regulate the product for quality and ensure proper labour standards and at the same time get a chunk of sales tax from all the places selling it, way more than they would from the mere handful of stores Wynn wants. Then they use the new revenues to pay for post-secondary education.

The spin is simple:

Wynn wants to privatize essential services like hydro and nationalize recreational products like pot with a plan that will make it unprofitable for Ontarians. Ford wants the Wild West. We see this as an opportunity to improve Ontario’s economy and provide a free education for all Ontarians.

It’s just one idea, but I’d hate to see the most left-leaning party that has a chance blow it and lose to Doug Ford over weed. The ONDP should really have a position on this issue which is currently wooing potential future hardcore supporters far to the right.

No matter what they decide to do on this front, though, Ontario New Democrats need to remember that their path to victory is keeping their traditional base and inspiring a new base with bold progressive and unabashedly socialist policy, pitching it in a way that doesn’t terrify suburbia, and driving the point home that Wynne can’t win and the only way to keep Ford Nation and all of their regressive social policies out of Queen’s Park is to vote NDP.

A unicorn is special because it’s a unicorn. If it tries to pretend it’s just a horse, then it loses any advantage it had.

* Featured image by E.K. Park via WikiMedia Commons

Monday morning the province of Ontario officially initiated a new electoral cycle which will end on the 12th of June, but Ontarians have been gripping for an election since the departure of scandal ridden Dalton McGuinty in October 2012. Since that fateful day, the Liberal Party of Ontario under the leadership of premier Wynne has been trying desperately to shed their old skin and rebrand themselves as a renewed progressive force in Ontario politics.

Now the Liberal Party of Ontario in many ways is more “progressive” than their current federal counterparts and Dalton McGuinty’s line and the policies spearheaded by his government were in many ways more to the left of the policies that were defended by the Liberal Party on the federal level. They did have concerns for social justice and the fight against inequality at heart, theoretically speaking.

The downfall of the LPO government came as a surprise to many. The absence of readiness for this election is most noticeable in the way that the political parties themselves, even the NDP, were caught off guard by the swift dropping of the writ.

When NDP leader Andrea Horwath decided to announce to her fellow Ontarians that she would vote against the Liberal budget, thus prompting an election, the media pundits ran amok in every column and every article online and on paper denouncing the NDP’s hypocrisy, voting against a “dream budget” for pure electoral reasons. They were all out-of-line.

When Andrea Horwath appeared in front of the cameras on Friday, a day after the budget was tabled at Queen’s Park (the name of the Ontario Provincial Legislature) one word was key in her speech: confidence. It might as well have been hypocrisy.

public private partnerships

The LPO has been in government for the past ten years, almost eleven, and their track record is quite obvious. The centerpiece of their policy is undeniably the public-private partnerships that have become the motto and the modus operandi of the province of Ontario.

The “yours to privatize” motto was first largely implemented by the respective Harris cabinets in the 1990s and many are quick to draw a very clear distinction between the Liberal administration and the Harris era. And in the rhetorical terms and in theory they were different but in practice… well not that much!

The LPO are truly the champions of rebranding in the sense that they have had the ability to make the privatization pill go down with greater ease. But no matter what you call it privatizations are still privatizations, and “public-private” partnerships are privatizations on steroids.

In the dimension of “public-private” partnerships, the government in most cases has only one role: to foot the bill. If anything goes wrong, the costs are socialized but the profits are privatized.

It’s a carefully crafted strategy to guarantee the façade of public institutions while privatizing more and more sections within them. Thus the “public” side is slowly but surely supplanted by a more robust private sector with a lot of help from the government, supposedly the champions of strong, affordable, public institutions.

Either the Liberal party of Ontario is corrupt, hypocritical or naïve to its core. Their naivety is best manifested in the idea that somehow you can table a progressive budget that is supposed to reinvigorate the Ontarian safety net, social security and help fight against the growing inequality in the province while on the other hand continue to defend ardently the public-private partnership scheme.

Unfortunately those two positions are incompatible and that is why anyone that stands for social justice and for the defense of public systems of health care and education had to oppose the “dream budget” put forward by the LPO because that’s exactly what it is, an illusion.