New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath is often asked if she’d support a minority Liberal government after the June 12 election.
Her standard answer is not to answer. “I’m going to hold my powder,” she said this week — a typical response.
But the far more interesting question facing Horwath is not whether she’d support Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals in the event of a hung legislature. It is whether she’d support Tim Hudak’s Conservatives.
Specifically, who would she back if the Tories and Liberals end up virtually neck and neck after the ballots are counted?
Horwath won’t rule out anything. When I asked her Friday about supporting Hudak, she said she’d wait until the voters decided before dealing with that question.
“Whatever they decide is what should happen,” she said. “Once the decision is made there will be a determination for the path forward.”
So, does that mean Ontarians may see some kind of accord or coalition between the Tories and the NDP?
Many voters will find the idea inconceivable. But it is not.
First, politicians are eminently practical. If offering the NDP a few cabinet seats could make Hudak premier, he’d be sorely tempted.
Conversely, a formalized coalition or accord could, in theory at least, serve Horwath’s interests by reminding Ontarians that her NDP is serious about governing.
Second, if election results allow either Wynne or Hudak to form a minority government, it will be difficult for Horwath to again support the Liberals.
The NDP has followed that route for the past three years. But Horwath seems to feel burned by the experience, saying Wynne made promises she didn’t keep. There is bad blood.
More to the point, Horwath insists that the Liberals are irredeemably corrupt.
“This campaign is really about cleaning up corruption at Queen’s Park,” she said Tuesday.
“People shake my hand and say we have to get rid of a corrupt government,” she told the Star editorial board Friday.
Horwath could turn around on June 13 and decide to give the allegedly corrupt Liberals more time in office. But doing so would suggest that her entire campaign was a joke.
Third, the Conservative and NDP platforms are not absolutely incompatible.
True, the two parties are at daggers drawn over corporate tax cuts. Horwath wants to raise them; Hudak wants them cut.
But on the general themes of government waste and inefficiency, the Tories and New Democrats are surprisingly close.
Both are keen to balance the province’s books (although they differ by a year on timing). Hudak has said he would axe 100,000 public servants to reach that goal.
While Horwath hasn’t come up with a number for the chop, one of her top labour backers, Ontario Public Service Employees Union head Smokey Thomas, has said the government could easily rid itself of 60,000 superfluous managers.
(Thomas later explained that he doesn’t want the public service in total reduced by 60,000. Presumably, this means, he would like to see fired managers replaced by newly-hired frontline workers).
Hudak’s platform does take shots at organized labour. But, formally at least, he’s ditched plans to introduce a union-smashing right-to-work law.
The NDP platform doesn’t mention unions.
Both parties oppose Wynne’s proposal to bring in a provincial version of the Canada Pension Plan. Hudak says Wynne’s plan would hurt business. Horwath calls it premature.
Both want to cut the size of cabinet and trim the bureaucracy involved in the province’s electrical generating and transmission industry.
Fourth, there is precedent. Even though the Tories won a narrow plurality of seats in the 1985 general election, Bob Rae’s NDP and David Peterson’s Liberals reached an accord to oust them.
Under this accord, the NDP agreed to support a Liberal government and Peterson agreed to implement portions of Rae’s platform.
As former Star columnist Rosemary Speirs points out in her definitive book on the period, Out of the Blue, a significant minority in Rae’s NDP caucus wanted to make that deal with the right-wing Tories rather than the centrist Liberals.
Like Horwath today, those New Democrats mistrusted the Liberals as slippery and devious.