Sunday, March 8, 2009

And the winner is ... Horwath

Andrea Horwath did indeed win the Ontario ND leadership last night on the third ballot. Many in the media predicted in the last few days she was emerging as a dark horse and the second choice of many in the party. In the end, after Gilles Bisson crossed the floor to support her, it wasn't even close with Ms Horwath getting 60.4% of the vote.

In her acceptance speech, she drew on something that is so vital -- and precisely the point that the very pro-business Lee Iacocca wrote about over 25 years ago: It's great to have a service industry and a resource industry, but the strength of a developed economy is its manufacturing sector. Iacocca, who noted IBM's (then) three biggest non-defence contractors were the (then) "Big Three" said, "You can't have Silicon Valley without Detroit."

It's true now. We can't have Blackberries if we don't have steel and auto plants. As Horwath said, it's the salaries and wages in the industrial core that flows through to the rest of the economy, ensuring high wages for all and the ability of families to pay for post-secondary education for their children. She called herself a "union brat," which I think is sadly a dying breed.

And given the opening provided by the now vacant Ontario PC leadership, she has the ability to begin to pounce every day the legislature is in session, and in scrums when it is not.

Recall that having a leader in place for quite some time worked to the NDs advantage in 1990, when the PCs who had been leaderless for nearly three years after Larry Grossman (peace be upon him) embarrassingly lost his seat in a general election and the party had to be guardianed by Andy Brandt until a little known guy named Mike Harris came along just before David Peterson's stupid decision to call an election a year before it had to be. Harris was a fish out of water back then; which gave Bob Rae who had been relentless in the legislature a chance to topple Peterson, which he did in one of the biggest come from behind upsets in Canadian history. (Brandt didn't do too badly for himself: Rae, Harris and McGuinty -- guys from all three parties -- kept reappointing him as head of the once stuffy but now classy wine and liquor shop, the LCBO).

Many Ontarians still smart from what the NDs did during the early 1990s, particularly on raising tuition feeds, forcing unpaid days off for public service workers as well as breaking their promise to have public auto insurance -- and during a recession too. Such turmoil gave Mike Harris the opening he needed to sideswipe the Rae team and crush the Liberals.

Certainly Ontario's economy is more diversified than in other provinces, and this recession is different from past ones, but if Horwath can find the right balance between socially liberal policies with ones that encourage economic growth, she could prove to be a winner. I'm not saying she's going to be the next Tommy Douglas but I see that kind of optimism and verve in her and she's going to need that to go after Generation X (which I'm in) et sequens, where elections will be decided in the future.

I wish her luck.

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