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Ontario NDP’s climate plan is too little, too late

New Democats’ ‘Green New Democratic Deal’ exceeds anything the PCs have on offer, but that’s not going far enough

Canadian PoliticsEnvironmentLabourEconomic Crisis

According to Joe Roberts, the ONDP’s Green New Democratic Deal is bad politics and could spell serious trouble for the party come election time. Photo by Matt Wiebe/Flickr.

When Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced the party’s Green New Democratic Deal on Twitter as “the boldest climate plan Ontario’s ever had,” many were excited. Upon closer inspection, however, the plan is neither all that bold nor ambitious.

In classic fashion—one that perennially keeps the party on the sidelines of power at Queen’s Park—the ONDP has shied away from the boldness of the plan’s namesake.

And while Horwath’s climate plan certainly exceeds anything the incumbent Progressive Conservatives have on offer, that’s simply not going far enough.

Horwath is selling us steak, serving us hamburger, and hoping that we don’t notice. The strategy is bad politics and spells serious trouble for Ontario’s New Democrats come election time.

The original New Deal was developed by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940s to not only modernize American infrastructure but to put people back to work and give them economic hope. Its success meant the creation of millions of government funded jobs and important domestic agencies geared towards relief, recovery, and reform.

Versions of the Green New Deal (it isn’t a single, monolithic idea) seek to create a similar boom in prosperity for working people while also tackling the climate crisis through significant public investment at a scale exceeding even the reforms of the FDR era.

When proposed to Ontarians in pre-pandemic polling, an Abacus Data poll found that 60 percent of voters supported a massive jobs and climate plan including two key components: a guaranteed job for those able and looking for work and the redistribution of the proceeds from a carbon tax through offering jobs paying a living wage and tuition-free post-secondary education.

Support jumps to a whopping 65 percent of voters if the plan includes higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations, showing just how hungry Ontarians are to address the economic pain inflicted by the worst public health emergency in a century.

Evidently, Horwath didn’t get the memo. The ONDP’s climate plan forgoes a jobs guarantee, transposing the words to “guaranteed jobs” and offering a workforce training program in its place. With provincial unemployment at 9.4 percent, Ontarians cannot afford to bet on vague promises of potential employment. We need good jobs today and yet another bureaucratic job training program simply won’t inspire voters to get out and cast their ballots for Horwath’s party.

In a positive step, the plan resurrects the cap-and-trade policy, a program that created $472 million in annual revenue before being mothballed by the ruling Progressive Conservatives. The ONDP plan directs the revenue generated toward planting one billion trees across the province. Trees are nice, but they won’t ease the burden on working families, and a half-billion dollars a year would go far in providing economic relief in the affordability of education, childcare, and housing for struggling Ontarians.

Being sold as bold and ambitious, one would think that what the plan lacks on economic reform, it must make up for in climate policy. Yet this is simply not the case with Horwath’s proposal. While the exact point of no return for our planet is debated by climate scientists, it is generally agreed upon that 2030 is the deadline after which even the most aggressive emissions reductions will fail to prevent the catastrophic impacts of global warming.

Progressives in the US seem to understand the urgency with their proposal calling for 100 percent clean, renewable energy over the next ten years. In contrast, the ONDP calls for net zero emissions by 2050. That puts us about 20 years too late to prevent climate catastrophe and is the same bland proposal the federal Liberals tabled through legislation in 2020.

Horwath has now put herself in a difficult position of her own design, fighting both the sitting PC Government and a Liberal Party looking to retake their throne at the helm of government.

2020 Ontario Liberal Leadership candidate Kate Graham, who came in third at the convention, now co-chairs the OLP Policy Platform. During her campaign, Graham shared her own detailed vision for addressing climate change at the provincial level. The NDP policy is so similar to Graham’s proposals on mass transit, net zero emissions, and electric vehicles that it might as well have been copy and pasted from the policy page on her website.

With Graham at the helm of OLP platform creation, the NDP should be worried. She understands that for the Liberals to win, the party must recapture voters who fled the OLP’s sinking ship under Kathleen Wynne in the 2018 election.

A smart politician, Graham sees the opportunity in front of her, and she will be eager to eat the ONDP’s lunch. Based on what Horwath has put forward, it shouldn’t be that difficult. The NDP cannot afford to come up short on both climate and jobs if they want to hold on to their status as the official opposition, let alone win the next provincial election.

Now is not the time for timidity. The NDP is ostensibly the only party willing to take on a Green New Deal and make bold policy part of their platform. Horwath and party insiders, however, are too afraid of the cries of populism from the Liberals and Tories to give the people what they are craving.

There is still time before 2022 for Horwath to connect with Ontarians who overwhelmingly feel that the economy is rigged in favour of the rich and who are deeply worried about the climate crisis.

Voters are ready and willing to support a vision that puts people to work and keeps money in their pockets. If Horwath wants them to take a leap of faith by sending her to the premier’s office, she would be wise to give them what they want.

Standing with the voters isn’t populism, it is how elections are won. And winning, well that’s good politics.

Joe Roberts is a veteran political strategist in both the US and Canada, Executive Director of the Centre for Canadian Progress, Co-Host of the political podcast New Left Radio, and Managing Director at Jewish Currents Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Joe_Roberts01.

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