Andrea Horwath, the Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, has contributed to Ontario’s prebudget consultations by exercising a veto in advance: no “new taxes, tolls or fees that hit middle-class families.”
Ms, Horwath’s ultimatum to the minority Liberal government of Premier Kathleen Wynne is not so much a social-democratic position as a populist one. The pledge not to impose any new taxes on the middle class bears more of a resemblance, say, to Ronald Reagan, than to NDP saints such as Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton.
Last week, Ms. Wynne wrote to the two opposition leaders, inviting their “input on the next provincial budget.” Tim Hudak, the Progressive Conservative Leader, resolved last year to seek the fall of the government; that leaves the Premier dependent on the NDP. Many observers assume there will be an election in the spring, but recent by-election results are not likely to make Ms. Wynne eager to go to the polls.
Ms. Horwath’s position appears to be remarkably inflexible. A pledge against new taxes is one thing, but user fees should be another story. In some cases, they can be good policy. For example, road tolls could help relieve gridlock in the Greater Toronto Area, asking drivers to pay for road use while encouraging the use of public transit and reducing pollution. Such creative approaches, however, appear to run afoul of Ms. Horwath’s prohibition. Her statement would presumably also exclude any new payroll deductions, too – in which case Ms. Wynne might have to choose between an election and her idea for an Ontario Pension Plan.
Last year, Ms. Horwath used her balance-of-power position to prevail upon the provincial Liberals to reduce automobile-insurance premiums by 15 per cent. This year, she has been conspicuously silent on the minimum-wage level, curiously so for an NDP leader. Sooner or later, Ms. Horwath and her party will have to present a platform that covers a wide range of issues. We already have a good picture of all the things she won’t be doing.