Photo by Michael Watier
If there was any doubt that the NDP was having trouble in Toronto during this provincial election, they were dispelled when influential long-time NDP supporters released a blistering open letter to leader Andrea Horwath last week. Its signers included Cathy Crowe, Michele Landsberg and Judy Rebick.
Has the party forgotten working people, poor people, women, immigrants? they ask. Why vote down a progressive budget and create the possibility that Ontario will elect a far-right Conservative government? "Where is the NDP we know?" Rebick later wondered in an interview with the CBC.
In this one-on-one interview, we ask the NDP leader these - and other questions - directly.
Here's what she has to say.
How do you respond to the claim that in this election the Ontario NDP has abandoned the party's values?
When word got out about that open letter, I immediately received a note from [former Saskatchewan premier] Roy Romanow, who told me leaders have gone through this many times before. He reminded me that the history of the NDP always included an understanding that if you run a huge deficit you wind up letting the banks call the shots.
Tommy Douglas knew he had to balance the budget in Saskatchewan before he could introduce his health care plan, and he did.
That's why we're concerned about accountability and waste. We propose capping CEO salaries in the public sector. Do we need four different hydro agencies with four layers of management and CEOs making over $1 million? I don't think we do.
We're the ones who have pledged $100 million to childcare so we can stabilize the system that has become so destabilized under the Liberal government. Between a dozen and 20 childcare centres are on the brink of closure.
It's true: we don't want to be only the conscience of the legislature, we want to implement our ideas as part of the government. If you want to become a government, you have to put forward ideas that are going to stick.
But this Liberal budget was one of the most progressive ever. Many are wondering how the NDP could turn it down?
Have those people really read that budget? The Liberals are proposing selling off assets just like their predecessors did before them. They're proposing project partnerships that give unprecedented decision-making powers to private interests.
But the pension plan. That is a good idea.
We brought up the idea of pension plan four years ago, and the Liberals rejected it.
Yours was a voluntary plan.
It doesn't matter that our proposal was a voluntary fund - that wasn't the reason they opposed it. They said they were waiting to see what the federal government was doing with the Canadian Pension Plan.
More important, the Liberals don't plan to implement their proposed pension plan until 2017.
Instead of an actual pension plan in the meantime, they're proposing what are really glorified RRSPs, the kind the federal Conservatives have been pushing, which allow fund administrators to take a huge cut, gouging taxpayers.
Why make such a big deal out of the gas plant scandals, when both you and the PCs originally supported closing the plants?
When word first came out that the plant was going to be cancelled, we were clear that we didn't want to tear up a contract until we found out what that would entail and how much it would cost. And [NDP energy critic] Peter Tabuns was on record from the start that it was a bad idea to build the gas plants in the first place.
Given your silence on the $14 minimum wage proposal, can you understand why NDPers suspect that you're abandoning working people?
We want to talk to working people, not about them. There's a reason why we're trying to get dental care for children and lower hydro rates; both are in our platform. Working people are having trouble paying their hydro bills. That's what they're telling us. And if we don't listen, that's a population that will vote for Tim Hudak.
We didn't run an ad in the Toronto Sun because we're veering to the right. We did it because working people read that paper.
As for the $14 minimum wage, we introduced a $12 minimum wage years ago, and the Liberals said no. And we always said that to increase the minimum wage you have to do it incrementally and not right this minute.
Big corporations like McDonald's are one thing. But we talked to small businesses, and they were clear that an immediate raise to $14 would crush them.
Still, the Liberal strategy to cull from the NDP seems to be working to attract progressive voters.
The Liberals have a history of running on the left and governing on the right.