Andrea Horwath’s troubles in Ontario indicative of NDP woes across the country

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Does the NDP have to move to the centre of the political spectrum to be able to form government?

It's not a new question but a question New Democrats across the country should be asking themselves in light of the internal rift that has recently surfaced in Ontario.

Last Friday, a rather scathing letter to Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath — written by 34 NDP-insiders — was leaked to media. In it, the NDP members complain that the party was losing its progressive roots.

"We were angry when you voted against the most progressive budget in recent Ontario history. Given your mistrust of the Liberals, it still would have been better to insist they carry out their promises rather than just bringing them down. But in your campaign, it seems that you don't agree with the proposals in the budget. From what we can see you are running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes. It is not clear whether you have given up on progressive voters or you are taking them for granted.

"With Tim Hudak in a position to win the election, we are facing the most right wing and vicious leader of the PC's since Mike Harris. Our priority should be to discredit his program and defeat him, not validate his program. Instead, you seem to be giving credence to his policies by adopting a more moderate right-wing program focusing on balanced budgets, austerity or at least public service cuts and 'common sense.'"

Presumably, Horwath and her tacticians are banking on the idea that to get elected -- or to at least win more seats — they need to attract more conservative voters. If you want proof that, you don't need to look further than their recent front page ad in the right-leaning Toronto Sun.

The letter to Horwath is bad news for the NDP especially since it comes in the middle of an election campaign.

[ Related: Comparing and contrasting the party platforms in Ontario ]

But the letter also highlights the other problem for left-leaning progressives across the country — they're not doing very well.

Outside of Saskatchewan, there are no NDP governments. Over the past year, they've lost power in Nova Scotia and let a slam-dunk election in British Columbia slip from their hands.

Federally, things are that rosy either. Despite his strong performance in the House of Commons, Thomas Mulcair has been unable to increase his party's popularity across the country; in the polls, and in the eyes of many, they've already been relegated back to third-party status.

Mulcair, like Horwath, has moved the party to the centre of the political spectrum since taking over the leadership in 2012. Last April, he successfully pushed for the party to remove the word 'socialism' from the preamble of its constitution.

He's not totally against oil pipelines — he's championed an east-west trans national pipeline.

And, he's against raising taxes for the rich: the NDP leader has said that he supports a rise in corporate taxes but not personal taxes.

Will a move to the centre help the federal party in 2015? Will a move to the centre give Horwath's NDP more seats come June 12th? That remains to be seen.

What is clear, however, is that at this point in time, in Canada, a party campaigning on traditional left-ist ideas (social justice, higher taxes, battling inequality etc...) isn't going to form government.

Even the likes of Thomas Mulcair and Andrea Horwath seem to understand that.

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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