Ontario NDP: What's Left after 4 1/2 Years in Office?

By Milner, Arthur | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 1996 | Go to article overview

Ontario NDP: What's Left after 4 1/2 Years in Office?


Milner, Arthur, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


The Ontario New Democratic Party surprised everyone by winning a majority government on September 6, 1990. Initially, government spending was increased to cover both new and existing programs, incurring the wrath of business and news editorialists. As the deficit increased, efforts to reduce spending brought the government into sharp conflict with public-sector unions. While in office, the government adopted progressive labour legislation and an employment equity policy, but didn't fulfill its promise of public auto insurance.

Regarded as having abandoned its principles by many of its members and supporters, and as incompetent by many others, the NDP was badly defeated in 1995, returning with only 17 seats (down from 74 in 1990) in the 130-seat legislature, and 20.5 percent of the vote (down from 37.6 percent). Bob Rae resigned as leader. A leadership convention is scheduled for June 20-23, 1996.

In keeping with its interest in social democracy, Inroads convened a roundtable discussion of four NDPers and one former senior public servant, all well placed to evaluate the Ontario NDP's term in office. The following is an edited version of that discussion, held in Toronto, February 26, 1996.

The participants were:

Dave Cooke served as Minister of Municipal Affairs, Housing, Management Board, and Education, and was Government House Leader in the NDP government. He has been a MPP for 19 years, and represents Windsor-Riverside.

Michael Mendelson was Deputy Secretary of the Cabinet in the NDP government, and Assistant Deputy Minister, Office of the Budget, in the previous Liberal government. He in now a senior scholar with the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Visiting Fellow at the Queen's School of Policy Studies, and Visiting Professor at the University of Toronto.

Frances Lankin served as Minister of Government Services, Management Board, Health, and Economic Development in the NDP government. She's been a prison guard and union negotiator, and was active in community organizing, the women's movement, and the labour movement before being elected MPP for Beaches-Woodbine in 1990. She is now NDP Finance Critic and Caucus Whip, and a candidate for the leadership of the Ontario NDP.

Hugh MacKenzie served three years as Executive Director of the NDP government's Fair Tax Commission. He is Research Director for the United Steelworkers of America where he has worked on-and off since 1980.

Simon Rosenblum was Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Finance for two years, after two years as Senior Policy Advisor to the finance minister, and was Vice-President of the Ontario NDP from 1985 to 1990. He has authored or edited six books, including Misguided Missiles and Debating Canada's Future, and is currently writing a book on the crisis of governance in the new world order.

Arthur Milner (chair) is a member of Inroads' Editorial Board, and a former federal NDP Constituency Association President. A playwright and freelance writer, he recently resigned after four years as Artistic Director of Ottawa's Great Canadian Theatre Company.

INROADS: It turns out we're meeting on the first day of Ontario's public service strike. The NDP government had its own difficulties with provincial employees. What do you make of this situation?

FRANCES LANKIN: I spent two hours on the picket line this morning at Bay and Wellesley and an hour at lunch time at my old local at the Don Jail. The thing I heard more often than anything else was that they look back with some fondness at the last five years. The new Tory government isn't attempting to work with anybody. Anyone with any objection to its actions is categorized as a special interest. That's something new in Ontario.

INROADS: Do you have any sympathy for the Harris government?

SIMON ROSENBLUM: You've got to keep in mind this isn't strike over labour issues, it's about the decimation of the public sector. …

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