Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Howard Hampton To Quit as Ontario NDP Leader in March 2009

I hadn't realized that Howard Hampton had announced he would not seek renomination as the leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party at their convention in March 2009. Hampton became leader of the Ontario NDP in June 1996, succeeding Bob Rae. I supported his rival Frances Lankin during that convention. Nonetheless, I like Howie. I particularly liked his efforts to broaden the party's appeal through the "Dialogue for Change" process. In fact, when I was still active with the NDP I convinced our constituency association in Ottawa to organize our own D for C Conference in 1999. Although we did manage to pull it off, it wasn't fully embraced by the party establishment who for the most part simply wanted to use the process to reaffirm it ties with the unions and our existing policies that had failed.

Honestly, I am surprised Howie has hung on for as long as he did. He led the NDP through three elections - 1999, 2003 and 2007 - where they finished a distant third and twice lost party status at Queen's Park. On the other hand, I don't think anyone else really wanted the job. He did the best he could under the circumstances. People still have bitter memories of the NDP government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995 (in which Howie served first as Attorney General and later as Minister of Natural Resources). The electorate likes the NDP as an honest broker not as a governing party.

The 1990 election was a unique set of circumstances in which the Ontario electorate was simultaneously angry with the Conservative government in Ottawa and the Liberal government at Queen's Park and elected the NDP in a protest vote. In 2008, there's a Conservative government in Ottawa and a Liberal government in Toronto. The anger with the Liberals in 1990 was due to then Premier David Peterson calling an early election in the middle of summer. Thanks to the present Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty provncial elections now take place the first Thursday in October every four years and the next election isn't due until October 2011. So it is hard to imagine a circumstance under which the NDP comes to power in Ontario in the forseeable future.

No one has formally declared as a leadership candidate. If I was still a party member I'd be interested in Gilles Bisson (who will probably run). He's a well-regarded MPP who has represented his constituency well, he's fluently bilingual and he has a sense of humor. Back in 1991, the Ontario government had a struck a committee into finding a way to unify Canada after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. The committee, which was chaired by Bisson, came to my high school and I was asked to make a presentation before it. The presentation took place in the school library. When Bisson and the other two committee members entered the room, everyone stood up out of respect. Bisson said, "Ahh, sit down. We're just people." It lightened the mood in the room considerably and demonstrated he didn't have any airs or pretensions about him.

The one down side against him is he's from Northern Ontario like Hampton (and for that matter me). Never mind that Timmins (where Bisson is from) is in Northeastern Ontario and Rainy River (where Hampton is from) is nearly 750 miles apart from each other and parts of it are more accessible by air than by road. Ontario NDP leaders are traditionally from Toronto and people from Toronto think Timmins and Rainy River are the same place and I suspect the party establishment wants a leader either from Toronto or Hamilton. Not that I have a dog in this fight. But that was the mindset when I was around and I'm sure that hasn't changed a great deal.

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