has got me thinking a lot about Canadians’ faith in our political process.
A recent poll suggested that our collective trust in governments, businesses, media, and advocacy groups has dropped significantly over the last four years.
What’s more, the politician currently generating the most enthusiastic support across this country has based his campaign for the leadership of the federal Conservatives around the idea that government should be as limited as possible because the “gatekeepers” cannot be trusted.
In this context, I’m following discussions about the future of Andrea Horwath, the former leader of Ontario’s New Democratic Party and current Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton-Centre, closely.
Horwath was re-elected as an MPP on June 2nd, but once it became clear that her party would not be forming the next government in Ontario, she resigned as leader of the NDP.
Less than 24 hours later, an article in the Hamilton Spectator speculated: “Is run for Hamilton mayor Andrea Horwath’s next move?”
The implication was that since she was no longer the NDP leader, Horwath was free to pursue other ways to, in her words, “fight for our everyday working people.”
And since the Hamilton mayoral campaign was accepting nomination papers until August 19th, she had (and still has) plenty of time to prepare for a run.
I hope Horwath stays where she is.
If she resigns her provincial seat – almost immediately after having been re-elected – she will be telling her constituents that it was never about them.
She wanted to be premier, sure, but she was only planning to represent the people of Hamilton-Centre because she had to. With the premiership off the table, someone else can look after their interests.
This would be a terrible message to send at any time, but it would be a particularly bad one right now.
The financial cost to Ontarians also concerns me.
If Horwath resigned, the Ontario government would have to call a by-election to replace her, which could cost as much as $500,000.
Meanwhile, as a long-time MPP and former leader of the opposition, upon her resignation, Horwath would collect a severance allowance of well over $200,000.
To be clear, since MPPs in Ontario have not received pensions since 1995, there is a compelling logic to providing them with financial support as they transition, often unexpectedly, back to a world where their political experience might not mean very much.
Doctors who run for office don’t get their patients back. The same goes for lawyers who give up their clients, and accountants, and contractors, and so many others.
If we want successful people to interrupt their careers and take pay-cuts to serve us in what are often thankless jobs, and we deny them a pension while they are doing so, surely we owe them some sort of support as they re-enter the traditional workforce.
But that contract should work both ways. Running for office should entail a genuine commitment to serve out one’s term.
It is one thing for an MPP to resign because of illness or a family crisis. It is quite another to quit because they see a job they like better.
If Horwath does resign, I would urge her to do what her fellow New Democrat MPP, Joe Cimono did in 2014 when he left Queen’s Park after just five months: don’t take the severance.
Far better, of course, would be to follow in the footsteps of the last NDP leader, Howard Hampton, and serve out the term.
And perhaps during that term, why not draft legislation that prevents anyone from collecting severance if they resign within a year (or two?) of being elected.
On the question of whether the Ontario NDP and the Ontario Liberals should consider a merger, see this article by Steve Paikin. In it, Liberal party president Tim Murphy articulates a significantly more compelling vision of what it means to be an Ontario Liberal than anything I’ve heard from an elected official in years. (The federal party could learn something from him, too.)
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