Andrea Horwath, meet Stephen Harper — your new best friend and fellow traveller.
Until this week, the prime minister loomed as the biggest roadblock to improving our outdated Canada Pension Plan and fending off a retirement income crisis. Now, Harper has found a new comrade-in-arms in his crusade to delay pension reform:
As leader of Ontario’s NDP, Horwath has made a stunning about-face on pensions — betraying the middle class, working class, and everyone in between.
Organized labour has lobbied long and hard for improvements to the CPP, which lags behind most pensions in the industrialized world because of its low payouts. Union leaders reached across ideological lines to forge a non-partisan coalition of premiers across the country, who rallied around a proposal from Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne last December for a modest CPP expansion.
Harper told them to forget it. Now Horwath is following in his footsteps with obstructionism that would do the prime minister proud.
What does this tell us about the kind of premier Horwath might make?
In her haste to conquer the premier’s office, she has lost her way. And given away the party’s strategy to a cabal of backroom plotters and deep thinkers who think nothing of the most crass, craven contortions on pension policy.
It tells us everything about how Ontario’s NDP has misplaced its moral compass — mistaking partisan rivalry and populist tomfoolery for serious public policy and good governance.
It’s pointless to fault Harper — and his ideological cousin, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak — for opposing a better public pension for people who lack a decent workplace plan. They are anti-tax Tories to a fault, allied with anti-pension business interests, and don’t pretend otherwise.
But how to explain the NDP’s astonishing refusal to back an independent Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, which would mirror the long-sought CPP enhancement? What was Horwath thinking when she announced her campaign platform this week by declaring she could not now support the retirement plan that organized labour, progressive economists and most pension experts celebrated as a triumph of government activism and actuarial prudence?
It’s utterly inexplicable. And indefensible.
Here’s how Horwath put it: No point proceeding with pensions here, since there will be a federal election in 2015 — at which point, she reasoned, a new federal government might do it for us. All Canadians deserve a better CPP so it wouldn’t be right for Ontarians alone to have one, she said with a straight face.
A novel argument coming from a New Democrat who, just moments earlier, had invoked the legacy of old NDP warhorse Tommy Douglas at her platform launch. You know, the social democrat who forced Ottawa’s hand by pioneering the introduction of socialized medicine at home when he was premier of Saskatchewan, leading the way for medicare’s spread across the country.
Never mind Douglas on medicare. Horwath herself called for an Ontario-only public pension plan in 2010. Hard for me to forget her previous stance, since I wrote an editorial at the time praising it.
The real reason her third-place party suddenly had second thoughts? New Democrats are piqued that the perfidious Liberals are overshadowing them on pension reform:
If they’re doing it, we won’t.
Wynne’s proposed pension plan is already in doubt. By rejecting the May 1 budget and triggering the June 12 election, Horwath may have opened the door to a Tory majority government led by Hudak — who has vowed to snuff out any new Ontario pension (along with annual minimum wage increases, pay hikes for home care workers, child-care workers, tuition rebates, and tax credits for home renovations by seniors).
Horwath wouldn’t be the first party leader guilty of political expediency. But in the NDP’s case, political pique trumps serious policy.
Her latest platform merely apes Hudak’s anti-tax Tory ideology by promising to take the HST off hydro bills (in fact, federal rules prevent any unilateral changes to the harmonized sales tax). And she has embraced Rob Ford’s anti-gravy train mythology by proposing a new “minister of savings and accountability” (with no extra staff) to produce savings of $600 million a year.
You can read all about it her platform — “Andrea Horwath’s Plan that Makes Sense” — a foundational document so thin you can fold it in half, twice, despite the big, fat font, blank spaces, and heavy glossy paper stock. Just no mention of pensions.
Perhaps for the political strategists who road-tested and fine-tuned her snappy new campaign slogan, it all “Makes Sense.” But beneath the packaging, the platform speaks volumes:
Under Horwath, the NDP is no longer activist but obstructionist. Not progressive, but reactionary.
The prime minister would be proud.