The NDP election platform delivered by leader Howard Hampton last Saturday is all too similar to the package that the party offered when it went to its near death four years ago.Like the last time around, the 2003 offering calls for higher taxes for the "rich" (100 grand and up), no private education or health care till hell freezes over, along with a break for students on their tuition, a higher minimum wage and $10-a-day childcare.
The biggest difference, though, is Hampton himself, who's lost the stiffness he usually drags to the platform, as if he had a hockey stick shoved up his suit. In a bid to cash in on the success of the anti-privatization of Hydro campaign, the party has come up with a slogan targeting general Tory privatization designs: "publicpower." When Hampton refers to "we the people," I flash to James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
The nine-seat NDP is feeling chipper because they figure people have started to connect the dots between Tory tax cuts, crowded classrooms and hospital waiting lists. The thinking is that more voters will see the error of their ways.
Furthermore, NDPers have concluded that their near annihilation last time was not the fault of their platform but of strategic voting. The disastrous union-hatched plan resulted in anxious voters scurrying to the Liberals in the last days of the campaign.
No one's talking that lingo this time. "We will not see trade union leaders advocating strategic voting, and it will not be a topic that's publicly debated," Liberal president and campaign chair Greg Sorbara tells NOW. "The difference is that back in 99 there was a critical mass that said, "We'll do anything to get rid of Mike Harris, even abandon our historic political preference.' This time around there's a growing sense that the government is on the way out."
For their part, the Liberals aren't targeting NDP ridings. According to a list obtained by NOW, none of the nine incumbent seats of the third party is included in the Grits' list of priority ridings, not even those where McGuinty's candidates stand a good chance, notably Sault Ste. Marie (held by Tony Martin) and Trinity-Spadina, where Grit Nellie Pedro has already set up a storefront office as part of her bid to unseat Rosario Marchese. Sorbara explains that going after NDP seats is not worth the trouble because the NDP is in survival mode and will "dump all kinds of resources into their existing seats."
Though no one is willing to utter the words "strategic voting," there are some pre-election efforts under way that bear a strange resemblance to it. The most cash-endowed is a project organized by the building trades unions across the province, which are pitching in $35 per member to finance a campaign called Working Families, the cornerstone of which will be more than a million dollars in TV ads aimed at defining Ernie Eves before the Tories have a chance to.
According to the campaign, he's the premier of "Walkerton, job losses, cutbacks in health and education, and less protection for employees in the workplace. But (things) can be a lot better, and soon. All we have to do is elect a better government."
Designed by a BC-based firm that's done many NDP campaigns, this one's about to be beamed into voters' living rooms (particularly those of women between 25 and 55) via TV stations in ridings where Tory incumbents are vulnerable. The campaign calls on voters to back Liberal and NDP incumbents. Beyond that, however, there's no specific advice. "We would lose groups if we started (to identify specific candidates)," says a building trades official.
The trades are in discussion with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) along with the Ontario Nurses Association and Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) about bringing them on board. (Local councils of the provincial building trades are free to support individual Liberal or NDP candidates, as will OPSEU.) The building trades official says informal chats are taking place among unions to avoid "putting 50 people on opposite sides of the street (working for Liberals and NDPers) where the Tory doesn't have a chance."
CUPE, however, will be welcoming NDP candidates to its pre-election convention at the Sheraton this week to talk political strategy, and will support only NDP candidates with both money and volunteers. Meanwhile, the Canadian Auto Workers will be doing an "issues campaign," says staffer Peggy Nash, rather than backing individual Liberals or NDPers.
It's conventional wisdom that the higher the Libs are in the polls before election day the better it is for the social democrats, because if it's a foregone conclusion the Tories will lose, the NDP-sympathetic can vote according to their conscience.
So far, the polls put the Libs in the lead. But of course, the polls always do, and the Tories -- who at 36 per cent in some polls are within spitting distance of re-election -- have the advantage of a vote concentrated in distinct geographic areas and thus are able to win with a lower percentage of the popular vote. So a lemming-like run to the Liberals 48 hours before election day -- just like in 1999 -- is not out of the question.
The NDP was caught last time with no way to counter strategic voting. They promise to have a plan this time. They'd better. More than their platform, it may decide their electoral fate.