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If Horwath wins, who will be f inance minister?
In recent days — belatedly, some argue — Doug Ford has surrounded himself with some other Tory talent. With the PCs falling in the polls, it made sense: Christine Elliott would be a far more traditional pick for health minister, and Vic Fedeli for finance minister, than Ford would be for premier.
At the same time, both the Tories and the Liberals are trying to paint NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s slate of candidates as a bunch of activists, radicals and yahoos. And she won’t answer questions about which might land key roles in an NDP government.
“I’m not going to disrespect the people of Ontario and assume how they’re going to vote,” she told reporters Wednesday.
It’s understandable she wouldn’t want to appear presumptuous. But surely she could safely big-up one or two of her obvious leading lights? Or … not.
“They’ll all be considered,” Horwath said in Leamington Wednesday, then somewhat oddly breaking into laughter.
She seemed to be referring to southwestern Ontario candidates specifically, but the Tories jumped on it immediately: All of the candidates? Really? The one who allegedly posted a Hitler meme on her Facebook page? The one marching around with the “F-k” the Police” sign?
Probably not them, you would think. But who knows? Horwath has gamely defended candidates other leaders would have kicked off the bus at the next gas station — not just probable winners like Jennifer Bell (University-Rosedale), who was arrested at a protest, but also probable no-hopers like accused Hitler-memist Tasleem Riaz (Scarborough-Agincourt).
“People sometimes do quote-unquote radical things to get the attention of decision-makers,” Horwath said of Bell on Friday.
So who will Horwath’s decision-makers be? Who might be her finance minister, for example?
It’s a question some New Democrats consider snarky — as if it implies no one wearing orange could possibly have the fiscal chops. But if you’re looking for a former banker like Charles Sousa, a successful businessman like Paul Martin, a Harvard MBA like Joe Oliver, or even an economist like Floyd Laughren, Bob Rae’s finance minister, you’re in for a struggle. I can’t find a single NDP candidate who fits that bill.
Most finance ministers don’t fit that bill, to be fair.
In Ontario in recent years, most have been lawyers: Jim Flaherty, Greg Sorbara, Ernie Eves.
Alas, there’s no real help there for the NDP either. By my count there are three lawyers running for the party; two are in tough against PC candidates in their ridings, and the third is Gurratan Singh, brother of Jagmeet, who is likely to win Brampton-East but who was also the guy holding the “F--k the Police” sign. (Probably not a great pick for Attorney General, either.)
Among caucus veterans, the names most commonly mentioned for finance are current finance critic John Vanthof (Timiskaming-Cochrane), who did a good job framing the endless revelations of Liberal fiscal mismanagement in a way that worked to the party’s benefit; Catherine Fife (Kitchener-Waterloo), formerly chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, where her website says she “successfully balanc(ed) a 675-million dollar budget;” and Peter Tabuns, formerly executive director of Greenpeace Canada.
The latter might seem like an odd fit, but one longtime NDP strategist argues the post is much more about communications than it is about number-crunching. “It’s not like the finance minister writes the budget; he has an entire department that does that,” he says. “But (he) can frame what the government is trying to do and convey the message.”
In appointing Tabuns as her de facto No. 2 spokesperson, Horwath could signal that environmental concerns would be front and centre in an NDP government. Or she could go off piste and pick someone like (probable) rookie MPP Marit Stiles (Davenport), a Toronto District School Board trustee and allpurpose social justice activist, to signal that change had well and truly arrived at Queen’s Park.
They would need someone who could at least talk to Bay Street and small businesses, though. A Horwath government mightn’t arouse quite as much fury in the business community as Bob Rae’s did. Her agenda isn’t nearly as radical relative to the times: Rae was racking up debt during the recession while everyone else was going with austerity, including NDP governments in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
But the NDP platform certainly isn’t a business-friendly document: it raises the corporate tax rate 1.5 points to 13 per cent, adds an extra week’s mandatory vacation for employees after a single year and sticks businesses with the cost of universal dental care.
The dental care and pharmacare proposals have a lot of moving parts. The pledge to buy back Hydro One is undercosted, and the timeline absurdly short.
Things could easily go pear-shaped. Horwath and her senior ministers would need to deliver on enough of their plan to keep public opinion and the party faithful onside if they hoped to install this bold vision of “change for the better” even halfway as advertised. It doesn’t seem like a job for a freshman.