Andrea Horwath’s seven-page election platform is more of a talisman than a blueprint for power.
This is not to disparage the Ontario New Democratic Party leader. Most NDP voters would be shocked if Horwath became premier after the June 12 election.
Quite logically, she has come up this week with a document aimed at explaining who her New Democrats are rather than what they might do.
Who then are they?
First, they are not the old New Democrats. Like federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Horwath has gone out of her way to portray her party as market-oriented and business-friendly.
Her 2014 platform goes even further in this direction.
In 2011, at the time of the last election, the NDP pledged to put the province’s large-scale electrical generating capacity back in public hands. Horwath said then that the Liberal government’s gradual move to private power had pushed prices up.
In this year’s platform there is no talk of public power.
Gone, too, are other interventionist proposals from 2011. The new platform has dropped plans to set gasoline prices. It no longer would commit the government to buying Ontario-made products. It has ditched all references to freezing transit fares.
Demands for a law requiring Ontario resources to be processed in the province have quietly disappeared.
The new platform says the NDP would intervene immediately to cut auto insurance rates by 15 per cent. But it is silent on the one reform shown to reduce premiums permanently — public auto insurance.
Second, the NDP continues its unrequited love affair with small business. It proposes cutting the small business tax. It would also provide wage subsidies to all businesses — large and small — that hire new workers.
Most important, the NDP has dropped all talk of setting up an Ontario version of the Canada Pension Plan — a major plank in its 2011 campaign.
In part, this lets Horwath avoid the embarrassment of explaining why she didn’t support the Liberal budgetary proposal to create such a pension plan.
But it also puts the NDP on side with small businesses anxious to avoid the extra payroll taxes that a new, mandatory pension scheme would demand.
Horwath’s unconvincing justification for abandoning pension reform is that Mulcair will do the job for her when he becomes prime minister.
Even big business is being treated more gently this time around. In 2011, the NDP proposed hiking corporate tax rates to 14 per cent.
This time around, Horwath is proposing to raise the corporate tax rate to just 12.5 per cent.
Third, portions of Horwath’s platform bear an uncanny resemblance to that of Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne. In large part, that’s because the Liberals chose to move aggressively leftward in this campaign.
But in part it is because both parties are trying to square the same circle. Both say they can spend wisely on job creation and necessary social programs now while trimming waste. Both say they would bring the province’s finances back into balance by 2017-18.
It’s no surprise that Horwath and Wynne come to the same conclusion here. The NDP platform accepts as given all of the government’s fiscal premises. It then adds and subtracts around the edges to come up with a near-identical scenario.
To reach their fiscal target, the New Democrats would cut just under $1 billion per year from the health, education and job creation spending proposed by the Liberals.
Then they’d turn around and spend that money on their own health, education and job-training schemes.
For instance, Horwath would axe the Liberals proposed $12 million per year top-up to school nutrition programs in order to put that money, plus an extra $3 million, toward an NDP school nutrition program.
This may sound like a roundabout way to expand something already in the works. And in practical terms, it is.
But campaign platforms are rarely practical. They are designed to make a point.
The point Horwath wants to make here is that, appearances notwithstanding, her New Democrats aren’t Liberal clones. Not yet.