WINDSOR - Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is facing a stunning, mid-campaign backlash as 34 long-time party supporters accuse her of betraying the New Democrats’ progressive roots in a crass play for votes.
In a sharply written salvo, the signatories to the letter say they are “deeply distressed” by the party’s direction under Horwath and warn they may join “thousands” of others in not casting a vote for the NDP on June 12.
“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,” states the letter, obtained by the Star.
Among those who signed the May 23 letter, are Michele Landsberg, a high-profile journalist and wife of former provincial NDP leader Stephen Lewis, Judy Rebick, Cathy Crowe, a long-time advocate on social and homelessness issues, and Winnie Ng, a labour rights activist.
Others who signed the letter include academics, early childhood educators and social activists.
The signatories express anger at Horwath’s decision to not to back what they call the “most progressive budget in recent Ontario history. Instead, they charge that Horwath’s move to force a spring election has opened the door to a Progressive Conservative government led by Tim Hudak.
“With Tim Hudak in a position to win the election, we are facing the most right-wing and vicious leader of the (Progressive Conservatives) since Mike Harris. Our priority should be to discredit his program and defeat him, not validate his program,” the letter writers say.
And yet they say that Horwath has endorsed the Tory program “by adopting a more moderate right-wing program focusing on balanced budgets, austerity or at least public service cuts and ‘common sense,’ ” they say.
“It seems in your rush to the centre you are abandoning those values and constituencies that the party has always championed. If the NDP does not stand with working people, poor people, with women, with immigrants, what does it stand for? We urge you to change course,” the letter states.
Word of the letter broke as Horwath touched down in Windsor after a flight from Ottawa. Walking across the tarmac, she declined to comment, saying, “I haven’t seen it . . . we’ll have to talk about it (Saturday).”
But soon after, Gilles Bisson, co-chair of the NDP campaign, put out a statement defending the decision to not back the minority Liberal government, saying that “progressives cannot turn a blind eye to corruption because it weakens the very foundations of our democracy.
And at an earlier campaign stop in Ottawa, she hinted at the ongoing internal debates within the party. “One thing that’s wonderful about our party is it is very democratic and there’s lots of debate and lots of discussion,” she said.
Horwath started the day in the crosshairs of another NDP loyalist. Writing in the Globe and Mail, Gerry Caplan, a long-time New Democrat at the federal and provincial levels, said many party supporters are “bewildered, frustrated, and exasperated.
“Your election campaign has frankly been a mess. No coherent theme, no memorable policies, nothing to deal with the great concerns of New Democrats everywhere,” he wrote.