March 15, 2010
“By silencing her caucus, Horwath probably did assert her leadership and avoid potential rifts. But, in the doing, she backpedalled from some of the long-standing, and laudable, traditions of her party.
And she gave the young another reason to roll their eyes at a business where fearless minds and independent voices need not apply.”
There are at least two ways of looking at any issue. And Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was likely getting eyed from a couple of angles for ordering her MPPs not to participate in a forum on whether the province should end public funding of Catholic schools.
On the one hand, Horwath – just a year on the job as leader – demonstrated authority, discipline and a wary eye for what’s historically been an incendiary issue.
On the other, she resembled, oh, Stephen Harper in her top-down muzzling of those elected, presumably, to speak their minds in the arena of competing ideas and not to shy from the tricky stuff.
Barry Weisleder, chair of the NDP’s socialist caucus, said Toronto MPP Michael Prue (who campaigned for the party leadership on reopening the school funding debate) had initially agreed to participate in the forum.
But even though the party’s provincial council has established a task force to examine public education funding options, Prue was ordered by the leader to bow out.
“So much for freedom of speech in the ONDP, at least on this important question,” Weisleder said.
There are at least a couple of reasons to cock an eyebrow at Horwath’s reluctance to have her caucus members participate.
One is that the NDP is legendary for its insistence on debating everything. Its conventions are usually gabfests on all issues under the sun and members are seldom happier than when protracted dispute arises over the most arcane of procedural points. Having one’s say appears to be part of a New Democrat’s DNA.
Horwath’s decision probably also plays worse with that demographic her party needs most – youth. There’s declining interest among the young in institutional politics. Their activism tends to be expressed through extra-parliamentary organizations. In considerable measure, this is because stifling, paternalistic party discipline is foreign to the ethos in which most under-30s have been raised.
The adage that children (like dutiful MPPs) are to be seen but not heard has long been rendered an anachronism.
Contemporary young have been encouraged to express themselves from the cradle. They vote people off the island, choose the latest pop-cult idol, tweet about any fleeting thought that flits across their consciousness.
They’ve been educated to assert themselves rather than unquestioningly defer. As Jean Twenge wrote in Generation Me, teenagers once admonished to “be polite” are now urged to “be yourself.”
The “question authority” mantra of the youth of the ’60s has now been around almost 50 years.
It’s worth noting that in the five by-elections in Ontario in the last year, only two of the MPPs elected were under 50 – and those by just a few years. One is almost 70.
Queen’s Park is not a counter, it would appear, where youth must be served.
As with any other cohort, the less young people see their views and values reflected in politics the less heed they give it.
By silencing her caucus, Horwath probably did assert her leadership and avoid potential rifts. But, in the doing, she backpedalled from some of the long-standing, and laudable, traditions of her party.
And she gave the young another reason to roll their eyes at a business where fearless minds and independent voices need not apply.
Jim Coyle’s provincial affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.