Politics - Provincial

Horwath a Strong Advocate for Traditional NDP Values

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 09, 2009

I have to disagree respectfully with this piece by Trey Shaughnessy on Andrea Horwath's win at this weekend's Ontario NDP leadership convention.

I'm happy to see Horwath talking in the language of the party's roots. There's nothing sadder than former left-wing parties embracing "middle way" politics and selling out to win power.

Think, for example, of Tony Blair's Labour Party in Britain, which ended up tagging along with the Bush administration's "War on Terror", imposing draconian new controls on British civil society and abandoning its own progressive economic roots.

The real role of the NDP in Ontario has traditionally to be the Legislature's conscience - to keep pressure on issues of equity, workers' rights, social justice, and environmental protection while the mainstream parties cater mainly to business interests.

Trey wrote, "Workers' rights are already law." I think it's dangerously naive to assume that just because we have laws on the books, workers no longer need protection.

I'm fortunate today to have a well-paying job with a respectful work environment; but I've worked enough low-end jobs for less-than-enlightened employers to know that this is a privilege, and that it's a constant struggle to protect workers from employers who casually ignore labour laws.

For a single example, I used to work in the restaurant industry. I was fortunate to be unionized, but it was and remains common to make servers pay out of their own pockets if a customer orders something and then changes their mind after it has been prepared (I heard about a case of this just yesterday), or if customers dine-and-dash. That's illegal, but its quite common in non-unionized restaurants (i.e. most of them).

The problem is that most of these workers have very little recourse to do anything about it - other than trying to find a job somewhere else, which is not always an option and, in any case, difficult to arrange while working long hours for low wages. (For a wrenching account of this issue, I highly recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed.)

Most of these jobs are non-unionized, so strengthening labour law cannot be dismissed as a union-based party acting in its own interests. In fact, stronger labour laws actually reduce the need for unions - the fact that unions still support them says something about the stereotypes we hold about unions.

Horwath an Impressive Leader

I've had a few occasions to observe Horwath and I've always been impressed. She's smart, feisty, has strong leadership skills, good instincts as a former community organizer, and a track record of progressive legislative initiatives that cross party lines and demonstrate the creativity Trey is asking for.

In fact, I thought it strange that he drew a contrast with US President Barack Obama, considering their many similarities. Obama:

I look forward to see how Horwath leads the party. Enough time has passed since the Bob Rae government to give the NDP a fresh star.

Perhaps more important, it seems that parties all across the spectrum have recently embraced the very Keynesian counter-cyclical stimulus spending for which Rae was so bitterly castigated during and after his term as Premier. Trey claims that the NDP's brand of politics has less relevance now, yet it seems we're all suddenly social democrats.

With the provincial Conservatives in disarray, it may be time for the NDP to show its stuff and make some gains - even if only to keep the Liberals on the straight and narrow against the inevitable coming pressure to tilt to the right.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:01:41

I don't believe in a Parliamentary democracy it's the role of any party to be the conscience of the lower house. That's the role of our senate. Which is why our senate should remain an unelected senate that way they don't have to make decisions just to get elected again.

I just didn't see anything new from the NDP convention. Horwath may have been the best choice, but it was weak choice of candidates. The NDP can't continue to harp about the same issues and expect to call that change. It was extremely frustrating for me to see the Party not present fresh ideas. Talking about problems is not solving them.

Obama is making necessary changes. He in fact is solving the problems not just talking about them. We witnessed Bob Rae get elected and then we he found out was now in charge to fix the problems he was harping about he was faced with the fact that's easier to complain then to act. Remember his campaign idea of giving every household a new more efficient refrigerator? Rae's NDP turned into Liberals, checking their ambitions at the door.

McQuinty is far ahead of the NDP in issues that are the typically core NDP issues; urban, healthcare, transit, and the environment. Could he be dong better in some of these areas? yes he could. But the NDP/Horwath didn't show any creative solutions, certainly not more creative then the Liberals. Fighting for unions? It's just a political tact to get their votes. Fighting for what exactly. Identify the problem and offer a solution. I'm not anti-union or pro-union. They have their place, albeit a less and less relevant place. And there are laws in place for unions. Not everyone works in a mine, for auto assemblers, and in steel production. The NDP focusses almost entirely on giant single sector industries. Why not focus on Walmart and these slimeball pub/sports bar owners you mentioned?

My perspective of Horwath's politics is different then yours. I agree the Party's roots achieved a lot; workers' rights, and universal healthcare to name two. I just don't see the same vision of the past NDP/CCF in the current NDP. It's reaching back on past achievements without any vision of new policies for a changing country/province. We can't and won't continue to be a resource based/manufacturing based economy. If we try to be we'll be doomed. Every party tries to save manufacturing jobs, not just the NDP. If manufacturing jobs are disappearing then fighting on behalf of the union workers is a lost cause. They should be fighting to bring manufacturing jobs back. And that would require working with business leaders.

I've never heard of servers being on the hook to pay for dine and dashers and patrons' returned food/beverages. If that's the case these employers must the slimeballs of the industry and my advice to those servers would be to find another job. Besides that would be against the law as it stands today and they could take their case to their MPP or Ministry of Labour, if it were indeed true. I think our existing workers' laws do a fair job.

We've all had those crappy jobs as teenagers and students. It was my motivating factor for me to find a better paying more respectable work environment. Steelworkers and autoworkers make a great living. I wouldn't give credit to the NDP for making that happen. It was the result of rank and file workers who struggled and fought for their rights. The Stelco strike of 1946, Winnipeg General Strike, Stratford furniture workers strike, Hamilton's General strike, Hamilton's 9-hour work day protest, secret (illegal at the time) meetings held by the rank and file, and on and on, resulted in the rights we enjoy today. It wasn't because of the NDP.

Everyone who sits in an elected seat is feisty. Because you stand up and yell at the house doesn't make one feisty. Sometimes that's not the way to get things done. It does look good on camera though, especially to those voters who support the cause the representative is yelling about.

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By OPP (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:28:10

Social democrats can't win. They get dinged if they move to the middle ("toldya so!") and they get dinged if they don't. I'm glad the NDP's sticking to there guns, that way they'll help pull the OLA to the left. The problem with Hampton wasn't that he didn't have new ideas, it was that he was a holdover from the infamous Ray government (which the author points out wasn't as bad as everyone remembers) and it didn't help that he didn't have alot of charisma. Just you watch, Horwath will be like a breath of fresh air after the NDP boys club stump of a party since '95.

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:30:04

I did enjoy a comment on CBC this morning about looking out at the audience this past weekend and seeing white, grey-haired and pot-bellied people making up the crowd.

They said the last leadership conference here in Hamilton in 96 was way more diverse.


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By Action Jackson (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 12:41:51

Right on! The good thing is the old, white, pot bellied people *know* this so they picked the one candidate who isn't like them but is like they people they want to attract into the party. Mark my words, this is the start of a resurgence for the Dippers. They made the right choice instead of 8 more years of old and grey and irrelevant.

If Horwath is smart she'll study what made the party successful in the first place, namely workers rights, social justice and the environment. These things become more important in a crisis, when times are getting better we can afford to ignore them (like since the mid 90s).

The NDP thrives in economic crisis, because they're the ones who are really paying attention to the little guy -- and in a crisis, with incomes falling and people losing there jobs, we all start to feel like the little guy.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 13:05:21

Why doesn't anyone think McQuinty isn't doing anything for the enviro? Light Rail, pesticides ban, Greenbelt, Places to Grow Act, Shared Air Summits, emissions regulations for smog starting 2010 and again tougher standards in 2015.

Ryan mentioned in another blog "If Ontario charged a market rate for electricity instead of fixing the price at 5.7 cents / kilowatt-hour, people would voluntarily invest in efficiency and conservation and the government wouldn't feel the need to require energy audits.

As it stands, electricity is so artificially cheap that it's nothing to leave your air conditioner running in your 3,000 square foot house while you're at work.

This is a case of government intervention to solve a problem caused by government intervention."

Well Horwath wants to lower Ontario hydro costs, making them even more artificially low. Is this pro-environmental or pro-votes. A la professional politician. Making policy to get elected. Or she doesn't understand issues, either way.

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By ToryBlue (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 14:57:19

At a time when unions and big business are in disrepute the provincial dippers pick someone who is in the pockets of Samuelson and other union bosses. Smart, real smart. Even the spectator guy thought Prue should have won. My money was on Tabuns but what the heck. Andrea won't do anything for her party, other than get a big fat raise for herself.

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By non clear language (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2009 at 18:16:55

"If Horwath is smart she'll study what made the party successful in the first place, namely workers rights, social justice and the environment."
Except the NDP had very little to do with today's workers' rights that started in the 19th century during something called the Labour Movement. And subsequent labour laws passed were all passed by Liberals or Conservatives.

I can't wait for the province to see her speak her words but say nothing. She looked good barking from the back bench but as a leader... lets see it. Her slogan should've been "It's time.... to bury the NDP" which is what she'll do.

The NDP is a cult that has their members believing they invented the weekend.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted March 10, 2009 at 08:46:46

Ryan: I can agree with you on many of your points. Even though there is labour law, it is only as good as it is enforced, and well there are many bad employers out there. In the temp industry, many of these employers are some of the worst, especially when it comes to health and safety issues. It should be noted that when a temp worker steps into the clients workplace, it is their responsibility, the client to ensure a safe workplace, that all are entitled to orientation and it would be a good idea to tell them who the worker's health and safety rep is in the company. You are entitled to have access to the Material Safety Data Sheets if working with hazardous chemicals.

We need to see a resugence of the labour movement in which all workers stand up for each other, not divided into pockets where some have rights and others do not.

The temp market will be growing and workers in this industry need to know their rights. The system itself will send a temp worker who has lost their job to the not for profits, who do nothing in terms of fighting for your rights, they will just send you to programs on who to do a resume or how to do an interview and will not address your violations to your employment rights. They will often force into precarious workplaces and even deny you the right to earn a wage, as you fall under the workfare policies.

If no scrutiny is given to these organizations, the not for profits, then many workers will be left struggling.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 10, 2009 at 19:48:04

I'm no fan of political parties, but I must say that Andrea has her work cut out for her replacing Hampton. I know Andrea personally, and think she's a great woman and representative for Hamilton, but Howard was one of the most down to earth, honest, next-door neighbour type politicians I've ever seen. There seem to be very few like him left. She has big shoes to fill in my opinion.

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