THE BLOG

Andrea Horwath's Fairy Dust Is No Transit Solution

02/20/2014 05:13 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

I paid attention to something the leader of the Ontario Green Party tweeted yesterday:

"Do NDP members support @AndreaHorwath's opposition to transit funding? Does she think Magic Money will fund it? Pass the fairy dust," he asked.

I loved the snark. Like most progressives, my blood has boiled each morning this week reading news reports and editorials bemoaning Horwath's opposition to finding revenue to pay for transit expansion (not to mention the minimum wage and pensions).

But I thought I'd ask another question, too: do NDP MPPs share Horwath's refusal to raise revenue to fund transit? I figured I'd check.

Turns out that they don't.

In fact, all GTA and Hamilton MPPs in the NDP have signed CivicAction's pledge to find new revenue to pay for transit.

The only GTHA member of the Ontario NDP caucus to not have signed this pledge is Ontario's new anti-tax zealot, Andrea Horwath.

This raises some important questions.

Does Horwath lead a divided party? Do her Toronto and Hamilton-area MPPs support her refusal to raise revenue to fund transit? And if not, why are they silent? Is caucus solidarity really more important than doing the right thing for the people stuck in traffic across the GTHA?

These are the questions we need to ask, because either Horwath's MPPs are backtracking on their support and their pledge to CivicAction, or Horwath is offside with her own caucus and her own party.

I suspect it's the latter. I don't believe the entire NDP could find it in their consciences to renege on their long-standing commitment to environmentalism and transit and using tax dollars for the greater good.

I just think they have a leader who's scared to do the right thing and would rather take the easy, populist and shortsighted approach in the face of a likely spring election. It's sad that Horwath is afraid to fight for what the NDP has long known to be right.

It's also frightening. The consequences for Horwath's abdication of leadership go beyond a simple impetus for a spring election. It's about whether the traditional conscience of parliament is now willing to stake the future of students commuting to Centennial College or single mums dropping their kids off at daycare in Mississauga on short-term political pandering.

Transit planning is a decades-long process. We've already seen the harms caused by a right-wing turkey at Toronto City Hall. It's appalling and terrifying that Andrea Horwath wants to be the orange version of Rob Ford -- and it's shocking her caucus and party activists are letting her get away with it.

Leadership means that sometimes you have to recommend the best thing, even if it isn't the most popular thing to champion. We need real transit solutions -- not fairy dust.

But Horwath seems content to take the path of least resistant and transmogrify herself into a what Transportation Minister Glen Murray called a "pale blue" imitation of anti-tax, right-wing Tea Partiers. Likewise, the Globe's editorial board said Horwath's anti-tax policy "bears more of a resemblance, say, to Ronald Reagan, than to NDP saints such as Tommy Douglas."

Last fall, in response to a question from Horwath, Premier Kathleen Wynne asked a similar question to the ones I found myself asking this week. The Premier challenged Horwath to talk to her Toronto- and Hamilton-area MPPs about whether they share an aversion to finding revenue to pay for transit:

"I am very, very surprised, given the number of members that [the NDP] have who I know are environmentalists, who I know believe in transit, that you would pose that question to me...Ask your whole caucus whether they have constituents who want to see investments in infrastructure, who want to see investments in transit, because the quality of life that people have to deal with when they're sitting in gridlock, when they don't have access to the transit that they need, is not what we think is acceptable."

The reality is that the Ontario NDP caucus has publicly declared their support for raising revenue to fund transit. Their leader is going against the express, public declarations of her caucus. Andrea Horwath isn't just abdicating the legacy of the NDP, reneging on the Party's long-standing commitment to transit -- she's asking her MPPs to break public pledges and go along with her abdication of leadership.

This is a big, bad deal.

Fortunately, though, we have a Premier who thinks for the long term and isn't afraid to show leadership, even on the tough files.

2013 Ontario Sunshine List: Key Names