Everyone who has spent any amount of time looking at the Ontario election results from 2018, and the polls now, will have noticed that one of the main battlegrounds will be the formerly Liberal seats won by the NDP in 2018, and whether or not the Liberals can win them back. It’s either downtown seats or University seats, mostly – with London (Western), Kingston (Queens), and Kitchener (Waterloo) all represented, plus Ottawa Centre and a handful of downtown Torontos. It’s a battle that’s important, especially in the context of a possible minority legislature, and the consequential battle for second place in seats, but it’s not the NDP battleground that matters the most.
Right now, the Tories are sitting on 61 seats in my projections, exactly 1 seat short of exactly half in the Ontario Legislature, and 2 short of a majority. A lot of the focus will be whether the Tories can hold the losses back in places like Mississauga and Scarborough, but the other path for them to keep government involves picking off NDP seats, and there’s a damn good chance they’ll do so.
Some of the PC’s best pickup opportunities, and some of their most vulnerable seats, are working class enclaves with a tradition of voting for the NDP because, well, that’s what they do. Right now, Oshawa and Essex are predicted NDP losses to the Tories, because of the (say it with me now) Global Fucking Realignment. Yes, that realignment goes both ways, and while it will help the NDP in their attempts to maybe gain Kitchener Conestoga or seats in Brampton, it hurts them here. In previous years, Essex and Oshawa shouldn’t be losses, and Niagara Centre shouldn’t be within 0.3% in my model as I type this. And it’s the risk that might give the PCs the election.
If the left wants something resembling something like stable government, they need to gain 15 seats from 2018, net. Amanda Simard in Glengarry Prescott Russell is extremely likely to hold her seat again as a Liberal, so 14 left. Low hanging Liberal fruit like Ottawa West Nepean, Eglinton-Lawrence, and Mississauga-Lakeshore will go easily, and then tight contests in Brampton, Mississauga, and Halton will decide whether the losses amount to 15 or more. The problem is, if the NDP are bleeding seats in their former heartlands, then the good work done in the suburbs might not matter.
The NDP should be able to take seats like Sault. Ste Marie (Tory by 1.3% in 2018) and Brantford-Brant (Tory by 1.2%), but instead of having any hope of that, we’re all the way back at hoping that Essex (NDP by 6.2%) and Niagara Centre (NDP by 6.7%) don’t fall. And if you think a four seat swing doesn’t matter, consider this: if you flip Essex and Oshawa back to the NDP from my current projection, the opposition goes from having a 63-61 majority over the PCs, meaning any non-PC government would need the Greens, and even then only have a one seat majority on the floor, to the Greens being an irrelevance and the NDP and Liberals having a 5 vote cushion on the PCs (64-59). One of those Legislatures is stable for as long as the Government wants it to be, and one of those is one scandal or death away from the government falling at a byelection. Throw in the Liberal-NDP battle for second, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The NDP’s problem is that their coalition makes little sense, and their leader even less sense for their disparate coalition. Take Niagara, where the NDP have three of the four seats, and you’ll see why it’s odd. Niagara Falls is some working class voters but also some wealth, Niagara Centre is the old Welland, which anyone who has ever had the mispleasure of having a family member hospitalized at the Welland hospital knows is the poorer, working class part of town, and then right above it is Saint Catherines, which is a mix of Brock students and suburbs, with a health dose of retirees (my Grandparents amongst them for most of my life). These three seats all voted NDP last time, but the reasons why aren’t the same. What do the overwhelmingly socially progressive students at Brock have in common with the culturally conservative workers of Welland, other than the fact they voted for the same party last time? Not much at all, and that’s why the NDP are in trouble.
If you were to ask what the Ontario NDP is as a party, what’s the answer right now? Are they a party of the working class and of their union traditions? I mean, kind of, but they’ve been trying to shake that reputation in recent years, and have tried to not come off as beholden to the public sector unions. Are they a party for suburban lefties with strong opinions on issues like police reform and trans rights, which as valid as those issues are (and the fact I strongly agree with left wing positions on both) make the party toxic in places like Essex? Or is it trying to be both, and insodoing, being a party for nobody?
This is the political party that got the second vote I ever cast in any election, and it was a vote I cast proudly at the time. It’s not a vote I now regret, but it is one that has faded in my memory, especially as my disdain for Andrea Horwath has grown. I have no answer to the question of what it’s for or how it would govern, because despite being Her Majesty’s Opposition for the last 3 and a half years, the NDP has never shown themselves to be anything more than an unserious group of useless non-entities. I don’t know if any political party that is as ostensibly close to power has ever left its former voters as cold as this one, but damn if it ain’t close.
For an institution that has had the advantage for the last nearly four years, what does the NDP have to show for it? Where is their distinctive offer on housing or education or frankly fucking anything? Where is Andrea Horwath’s vision for what Ontario looks like after four years of an NDP government? At a more basic level, what the fuck is the point of the NDP?
I want a progressive government after this election, and I am thoroughly disgusted by the supposed progressive party, and because of it, I cannot repeat the vote that made me proud 4 years ago. Unless the Liberals collapse so spectacularly as to make the NDP the only viable option – basically, barring Del Duca becoming a Wynne-level disaster in the polls – I cannot vote for the NDP because of their own fatal flaws.
Until the NDP decides what they are and who they’re for, they’ll only become even remotely viable on the off times that the Liberals have been in office so long that the government is running on empty. They need to be a credible, serious, worthy opposition, a force for good in our politics. And right now, and at every point of the Ford government, they have been an unserious mess of incoherence and uselessness. And that’s why they’ve lost my vote, and why they won’t get it back.
The ONDP have spent their time in second place fucking around, and now they’re about to find out. Whether their uselessness will re-elect Ford is now the only question.