Sunday, September 30, 2007

New Democrats sense a new momentum

The momentum does not seem to be translating in more seat projections. The projections have been for 12 seats for some time, a bit better than last election but hardly much to cheer about. The Liberals seem to have the real momentum and it might bring them to a majority. I hope this is incorrect but that is how it looks.

New Democrats sense a new momentum
The prospect of a minority government is bringing the party and its election platform back from the political margins

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

September 27, 2007 at 5:54 AM EDT

TORONTO — Howard Hampton changed the shape of the Ontario election campaign this week with just seven words.

The New Democratic Party Leader was asked what conditions he would impose for propping up a minority government after the Oct. 10 election. He had been asked the question before and had always replied that it was important to let voters speak before getting into those machinations.

But he broke out of the straitjacket at a campaign stop in Waterloo on Monday and telegraphed to the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives that they would have to deal with the six major planks in the NDP platform in return for his support: "You have to address these six commitments."

In one sentence, Mr. Hampton brought into the open the unspoken reality that Ontario voters may not reward any of the parties with a majority government. His comments also brought the NDP out of the electoral wilderness and made it a force to be dealt with for the first time since the early 1990s.

Enlarge Image
Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton arrives at a campaign stop in Toronto yesterday. (CP/Frank Gunn)

Related Articles

McGuinty: John Tory is another 'Mr. Harris'
NDP: Women not earning enough
Editorial: Beer, wine and politics
Roy MacGregor: Getting off base with core vote
From the archives

Q&A Today: Keep or kill the health care premium?
Internet Links
Ontario election 2007: Latest news, analysis, photos, interactives and more.
The party has been marginalized in the past three Ontario elections. In 1995, voters were desperate to get rid of Bob Rae's NDP government and in 1999 and 2003, thousands of New Democrats voted Liberal in an attempt to keep the Conservatives out of office.

"This is a different election," Mr. Hampton said in an interview. "The last two elections progressive voters just wanted to do one thing - they wanted to drive a stake in the heart of Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution. This election, ideas matter."

It didn't seem that way in the first two weeks of the campaign, however. Voters were talking about just two issues - whether Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty was a liar and whether Conservative Leader John Tory had lost his mind by proposing to spend public money on faith-based schools. In that context, the methodical introduction of the NDP platform by Mr. Hampton seemed to get lost.

Mr. McGuinty's subsequent acknowledgment that he could be reduced to a minority government guarantees that the NDP will be part of the main conversation until voting day. The bonus for Mr. Hampton in talking about a minority could be that NDP voters will not be as strongly tempted to vote Liberal for strategic reasons because they can be assured that a left-wing agenda will be promoted within government.

Ryerson University political scientist Gregory Inwood believes most individuals haven't yet confronted strategic voting but the prominence given this week to the possibility of a minority government will get core NDP supporters thinking about it.

"My gut feeling is that this core will hold for the NDP," he said.

This new wrinkle adds to what had already been a buoyant mood among New Democrats. Pre-election polls put the NDP's support level in the high teens, a modest improvement from the 14.7 per cent of the vote the party received in the 2003 election when it elected just seven MPPs, one less than was needed for official-party status.

Four subsequent by-election victories - including stunning upsets in the ridings of Hamilton East, Parkdale-High Park and York South-Weston - have restored the party's hopes of a successful 2007 campaign. Mr. Hampton said the NDP is competitive in a number of seats across Ontario but party strategists are focusing their hopes on seats in northwestern Ontario, Hamilton, Toronto and Windsor.

The party can't afford riding polls - it groups them in clusters - so it can't pinpoint what's going on but strategists think both seats in Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie are up for grabs, even though this would mean overturning substantial Liberal pluralities. They believe voters will want to punish the Liberal government for the region's economic decline.

"We're seeing an exodus of people, the loss of over 43,000 jobs in the forestry sector alone, the loss of almost a billion dollars in wages and salaries, whole communities having their economic base destroyed," said Mr. Hampton, who represents the northern riding of Kenora-Rainy River.

Lakehead University economist Livio Di Matteo agrees that the perception the Liberals haven't stemmed the decline of the forestry sector will be crucial in the election. "It will tend to bleed support from them," he said.

The NDP is even more buoyant about Hamilton, where three Liberal incumbents have resigned and left contests wide open. The fact that the Conservatives are picking up support for their tough-minded policy on the native occupation at Caledonia encourages New Democrats that the splits will break their way.

"We'll be disappointed if we win one and we might even be disappointed if we win two," a senior party official said.

It will be tougher in Windsor against two high-profile Liberal cabinet ministers - Dwight Duncan and Sandra Pupatello - but party officials are hopeful in Ottawa Centre, where the Liberal incumbent is not running. They also think that close second-place finishes in 2003 in London-Fanshawe and Oshawa can be turned into victories if strategic voters come back home.

Mr. Hampton throws Brant, Cambridge and 10 Toronto ridings - including Davenport and Etobicoke North - into the possible-win column if the vote splits optimally.

Whatever happens, the NDP Leader is convinced the party has finally been let out of the doghouse by voters who remembered the high taxes and fiscal chaos of the Rae years. He recalls that in the past two campaigns, "on almost any radio open-line show, the first question you were asked was, 'Are you dead yet,' or, if not that, 'Why aren't you dead?' " "Now, in this election," he added, "people are actually looking for what we bring to the debate."

Hampton's conditions

The conditions NDP Leader Howard Hampton has set for supporting a minority government:

A rebate of up to $450 annually in the health tax

An immediate boost to a $10 minimum wage

Tougher global-warming regulations

A new school-financing formula to account for all school board expenses

Higher standards for long-term-care treatment

A rollback of tuition fees to 2003 levels

Cost: $9.1-billion

Elected NDP candidates


in 2003, compared with 72 Liberals, 24 Progressive Conservatives


in 1999, compared with 59 Progressive Conservatives, 35 Liberals


in 1995, compared with 82 Progressive Conservatives, 30 Liberals


in 1990, compared with 36 Liberals, 20 Progressive Conservatives

New Feature: Recommend this article

No comments: