Gerald Caplan is a former New Democratic Party national director.
Dear Premier Horwath:
Yes, I know that title is just a tad premature. But I couldn’t wait! Isn’t it wonderful? You’re on a roll, and there is a lot of smart money predicting you might just win this provincial election. Congrats! Isn’t it an almost magical feeling? After 28 long years, I still recall vividly that blissful moment in 1990 when we realized that Bob Rae had a very good chance of forming an NDP government.
Of course in politics it’s really not over till it’s over. Even now, with so little time remaining before election day, everything can change and anything can happen. In fact it’s changing by leaps and bounds before our eyes. Suddenly, the NDP has shot to the top of some polls into an almost unimaginable lead across the province.
But it would be foolhardy to make firm predictions. What goes up can come down – swiftly. Still, we can surely say the following:
In their quest for yet another majority, the Liberals are finished, toast, done for, dead as Monty Python’s parrot. Still, if enough anti-Doug Ford voters end up dividing evenly between Liberals and New Democrats, Mr. Ford and the Progressive Conservatives could take the most seats. So stopping him is still very much Job Number One.
And you, premier-in-waiting, have without question earned a first-place ranking. Beginning with the first leaders’ debate, and until the final one Sunday night, you’ve performed admirably and run a first-class campaign. In fact, you seem like a premier-in-waiting. Warm congratulations are due to you and all those responsible.
Still, be wary about those egregious lies about the Bob Rae government that Mr. Ford started throwing at you at the final debate. They’re fake news, but they stick.
And there’s another thing to be vigilant about. The latest attacks from Mr. Ford are a warning that the most brutal part of the campaign is just unfolding. That’s the trouble with those polls that had you running first; your opponents still have time to counter-attack. Suddenly, most eyes, most political stories, will focus on you and your liabilities. But those are the easy assaults to ward off.
More damaging, if they happen, will be the ruthless and ferocious attacks that are likely to be launched against you and the party, just as they were hurled at the Rae government. Never forget: within months of the NDP winning the 1990 Ontario election it faced an unrelenting, ferocious four-year onslaught that was unprecedented in Canadian history. This time, they’re not likely to wait until you’ve won.
In 1990, this campaign was not just rough but dirty. Lies, distortions and fabrications were all considered fair game against the new NDP government, as Mr. Ford demonstrated in the debate Sunday night. His statistics were mostly hooey, but they are also hard to refute in the heat of a campaign’s final week.
The attacks on Mr. Rae came, remember, literally from all sides. It’s not too much to say that hysterical fear-mongering and sabotage was the order of the day. Eventually, the attackers included every manner of business big and small, both Canadian and American-owned, almost all private media, the police (especially in Toronto), landlords, and lobbying/government relations firms.
Within months, the onslaught was so powerful that the government had already lost the confidence of the province and never got it back.
The tactics were raw, brutal. Though the Soviet Union was dissolving, right-wing columnists such as Diane Francis and Barbara Amiel didn’t hesitate to engage in old-fashioned red-baiting, smearing the NDP government as “red” or communist.
Conrad Black was only the first capitalist to threaten a capital strike against Ontario so long as the NDP held power. Other corporations followed his lead. Multinationals announced they’d refuse to invest in Ontario under an NDP government.
The Toronto Sun was the government’s most tenacious foe, but New Democrats refused to take it seriously enough. This was a major strategic error for which the government paid dearly. Today, it’s already up to some of its old tricks, and is already the leading cheerleader for Mr. Ford.
So be prepared. Standing first in a poll is exciting. Winning on June 7 is something else again. Good luck. We’ll all need it.