Andrea Horwath is brushing off a rift in her New Democratic Party as good old fashioned democratic debate.
And she is defending her decision to reject Kathleen Wynne’s left-wing budget, saying she had to force an election to “shut down corruption” in the Liberal government.
“The great thing about our party is that it’s very democratic and people have the right to voice their opinions,” she said after a rally in Windsor Saturday, a day after 34 party members accused her in a letter of abandoning her party’s socialist roots by voting down the budget.
Ms. Wynne’s spending plan would have created a new provincial pension plan and pumped a billion dollars into social programs. But Ms. Horwath said it had to go because of the Grits’ spending scandals, including the costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants.
“If there’s one straightforward, up-front job that progressives have, it’s to shut down corruption and get rid of the kind of behaviour that we’ve seen from the Liberal government,” she said. “When I made the decision I made, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But when I heard the feedback from Ontarians, I heard the disgust with the way that the scandals had been rolling out with the waste of their money.”
The Liberals tried to exploit the rift to disrupt one of Ms. Horwath’s photo-ops.
As she greeted voters at a street festival in Chatham Saturday, three volunteers from the local Grit campaign stood nearby, holding signs reading “No right turn!” and “Where are the real NDP?”
A Liberal staffer from the central campaign office conferred with the volunteers, after which the volunteers hid their Liberal campaign buttons.
“We’re just doing what we were told,” one of the volunteers said. Two of the men declined to be interviewed, but a third confirmed they were all from local Liberal Terry Johnson’s campaign.
Ms. Horwath has for months faced discontent from grassroots party members who say she has traded big picture policy for small ball populism.
The rift deepened Friday with the letter, signed by such people as Michele Landsberg, the wife of former Ontario NDP Leader Stephen Lewis, and former candidate Cathy Crowe.
“In this election, we are seriously considering not voting NDP,” the letter reads. “From what we can see you are running to the right of the Liberals in an attempt to win Conservative votes. It is not clear whether you have given up on progressive voters or you are taking them for granted.”
While some NDP insiders privately dismissed the letter’s signatories as marginal has-beens in the party, their views are representative of many New Democratic rank and file. Labour leader Sid Ryan has taken a similar position, warning that Ms. Horwath’s tack towards the centre will alienate many of the volunteers the party needs to help in the campaign.
The New Democrats are thought to be vulnerable in some inner-city Toronto strongholds, including Trinity-Spadina and Davenport, left-wing areas where the Liberals are also strong and have made a concerted push in recent months.
Ms. Horwath is moving to broaden the NDP’s appeal and move it into the political mainstream, following the path charted by such Third Way leaders as former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow.
Ms. Horwath’s characterisation of the Liberals Saturday is the strongest it has ever been. While the Progressive Conservatives have long called the Grits “corrupt,” Ms. Horwath generally stayed away from the term.