Unlike the PCs, who finally released partially costed policy promises for Ontario overnight on Tuesday, just eight days before the election, the NDP’s fully costed manifesto has been available since mid-April, a 97-page document that outlines a suite of bold social programs for the province. But in a polarized race against a PC party that is seemingly unconcerned with precise policy commitments, it is unclear how much of the NDP’s recent surge of popularity comes down to policy or personality.
The NDP’s platform earmarks $19 billion over 10 years for hospital infrastructure, $475 million for a pharmacare plan and $16 billion for school infrastructure on top of introducing universal dental coverage and free childcare for low-wage earners. The party has also committed to commuting student loans to grants, covering half of municipal transit operating costs and partially renationalizing Hydro One.
Peter Graefe, political science professor at McMaster University, said that the NDP’s platform was most instrumental in the earlier stages of the campaign, when the party successfully outstripped the Liberals to become “the anyone-but-Conservative party.”
But at this stage, with the NDP and PCs almost head-to head in polls, he said policy is less key. “Ford made this campaign about opera. It’s not the symphony, it’s not the music — it’s a big operatic performance. And someone like Andrea Horwath, the auto worker’s daughter fighting for the collective good, has more resonance than Wynne, the upper-middle-class professional with a record of a fairly austere budget.”
‘Solutions to problems in people’s lives’
The NDP are able to capitalize on their leader’s personality and likeability, said Graefe, because their platform “has a broad enough appeal that she could present herself as someone who would fight for the people.”
The manifesto’s “three big pieces,” according to Graefe, are free childcare for families earning less than $40,000 and $12 per day fees for those above that bracket, a universal pharmacare plan that covers the cost of 125 of the most commonly used drugs and — perhaps the policy “gaining the most traction because no one else put it forward” — full dental coverage.
“Last election, Horwath didn’t have as many offers in important policy spaces. She was the candidate of drivers and saving money on your hydro bill. This time she is also the person who is going to fight for your teeth and your cancer drugs,” Graefe said. “These are solutions to problems in people's lives in modern Ontario.”
The NDP plans to fund its social programs by raising taxes on high-wage earners, increasing the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 13 per cent, and introducing a three per cent tax on cars that cost more than $90,000.
Addressing the needs of young people
Ali Chatur, the Toronto-based co-chair of the New Democratic Youth of Canada (the youth wing of the federal NDP), said that the first issue for young Ontarians is ensuring that post-secondary education is more affordable and available to all.
By promising to convert student loans to grants, “the NDP addresses this in a much better way than the competition,” he said. On top of this, it plans on creating 27,000 paid co-op and internship opportunities for students — improving graduates chances of employment after school.
There are several other streams to Horwath’s commitment to affordability that Chatur, who still lives with his parents to avoid Toronto rent prices, believes will appeal to young voters. This includes introducing rent controls that stop landlords from “renovicting” people from their homes and introducing a rent registry, so tenants can see how much a landlord has charged in the past.
“For young people struggling with the cost of tuition, who don't have affordable housing or who are graduating university or college without a new work experience, Doug Ford’s dollar beer promise isn’t going to get them anything,” he said. “The NDP’s plan is far more comprehensive and deals with services young people rely on and think about.”
Reclaiming Hydro One
The NDP commitment to affordability is also reflected in its promise to partially renationalize Hydro One in an effort to cut electricity bills.
Graefe said this pillar of the platform was likely an attempt to boost NDP’s chances against the Liberals, given the latter’s “poor stewardship of the public interest.” The Liberals sold the government’s remaining stake in the utility company in December 2017.
While Graefe added that reducing utility rates may build credibility for the party, he said that in his personal view “it's all snake oil, because so much of it is already tied up in long-term contracts.”