Monday, July 4, 2022

3 challenges facing the Ontario NDP as it seeks to win more support

The results of the 2022 provincial election in Ontario were a devastating setback for the New Democrats, which involved a loss of votes, seats and support among key demographic groups.

With the resignation of leader Andrea Horwath, the party is now at an important moment. In the coming years, the NOP – the main electoral arm of the left in Ontario – will have to decide on its direction and what role it wants to play in the province’s election dynamics.

The NDP has always been in an awkward position in Ontario. Although it originated from Canada’s labor and progressive traditions, it struggled to find its place and only once formed a government during particularly volatile periods of the late 1980s and early 1990s that saw successive governments of all three parties .

Nevertheless, it has maintained a somewhat stable presence in Ontario politics. Despite a conflicting seat count, the NDP retained on average about 20 percent of the popular vote. It comes in second place fairly frequently in Ontario elections, typically by surpassing the Liberals in popular votes and seat counting.

Given a Liberal party yet to recover from the unpopularity of the Kathleen Wynne government, this is the position the party currently finds itself in as an official opposition in the Ontario legislature after Doug Ford won a second majority on June 2.

Ideology vs electability

Part of the election consideration for the New Democrats is focused on the ongoing tension between ideological commitment and political efficiency.

It has two choices. First, it can offer a principled opposition that is highly unlikely to form a government. Second, it could offer a more viable party that, in addition to overlapping with other parties, would not be able to reform the province’s political and economic institutions.

Historically, the party’s origins in the Canadian Cooperative Federation (CCF) have led to a commitment to major reforms that address the interests of the working class, greater cooperative control over the relations of economic production, social justice, and the expansion of the welfare state. .

Nurses hold signs while standing at a campaign event with Horwath in Ottawa in May 2022.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Justin Tang

Thus, it formed a basis around the support of organized labor and educated, middle-class metropolitan voters with progressive beliefs.

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Nevertheless, the party was more likely to campaign for a more moderate, left-of-center set of policy commitments aimed at middle-class voters emphasizing equality, affordability, economic growth and greater access to social services.

But it now presents challenges. A concentrated effort by the Conservatives to win the support of trade unions in the private sector has hurt the New Democrats, suggesting that a significant election reform could be underway in Ontario.

At the same time, the party is competing with the Liberals and the Greens for control over progressive social issues, in addition to the left-of-center policy proposals that best align with suburban voters.

To move forward, the party will have to wrestle with their response to three tendencies.

1. Adherence to the working class

The first deals with the question of what to do with their conventional working class support or, more precisely, the more historical dynamics of class-based politics.

The NDP originally emerged as the working class party, advancing their interests against what were believed to be unfair economic and political institutions. But the growth of the middle class and general prosperity among liberal, capitalist institutions made these identities less important for election outcomes.

The Conservatives thus gained the support of workers by promising continued economic growth and investment in infrastructure.

A man with smooth blonde / gray hair shakes hands with construction workers.
Ontario, premier, Doug Ford, greets workers at a construction site in Brampton, Ont. in May.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chris Young

Nevertheless, there is little ground to be gained here for New Democrats as they can provide solutions to current economic anxiety such as rising income inequality, inflation and housing affordability, while pointing to the limits of the growth-oriented model set by the conservatives are offered.

Jagmeet Singh, the federal NDP leader, has already incorporated this to some extent in his election appeal and made a distinction between the “people” and the “ultra-rich.” But there is little evidence that enough of Ontario supports the NDP in this area, especially given the fact that the Liberals also offer an alternative to the Conservatives in economic policy.

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2. Struggling with social justice issues

The second trend concerns social justice. As voters are less likely to vote on the basis of economics, this emphasis on values ​​such as equality, tolerance, environmental awareness and free individual expression has become a priority of left-wing politics.

Recent events related to systemic racism, indigenous self-determination and climate change have made these issues particularly important to some voters.

A woman walks off a campaign bus that says Change for the Better on the side.
Horwath arrives for a rally in Paris, Ont., During the 2018 provincial election.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Colin Perkel

But this is another area where the NOP competes with the Liberals and Greens. This often leads to political parties building each other up, as they focus on appearing the most socially progressive.

They do this by paying more attention to these topics in campaign communications, in addition to promising more spending and government-sponsored programs to address social justice issues.

But it could turn off other demographics, such as suburban middle-class voters who are more concerned about short-term, “pocketbook” economic issues.

3. Leadership

Finally, there is the importance of leadership for the NDP’s election appeal.

Given how central leaders are in Canadian politics, the party can prioritize policies and instead place all bets on the popularity of their leader. It can focus on creating the perception of a reliable, honest and morally decent option compared to other party leaders, which can be seen by voters as self-interested and only concerned with electoral suitability.

A man with a mustache wears a red Canada cap.
In February 2003, Layton took a break from skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jonathan Hayward

Jack Layton was successful with this. He was considered reliable by many Canadians, and his moderate, left-of-center platform appealed to middle-class voters across the country.

But here, too, the Ontario NDP must consider what it wants to be, because even with a popular leader, it is part of a crowded field of left-of-center political parties, both provincial and federal. A leader-driven NOP runs the risk of not distinguishing itself from the other parties.

Even with her high personal approval ratings, this is a limitation that Horwath could never fully overcome. Nevertheless, given a weak provincial Liberal Party, if the NDP elects a dynamic leader in the coming years, it could form a government and further establish itself as the most popular alternative for the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario.

With a new leader and a renewed commitment to a left-wing policy platform that addresses both economic needs and social justice, it is possible that the party could earn a solid, respected place in Ontario as a voice of opposition – and that ‘ give a chance for a victory.

Nation World News Desk
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