See, I’m kind of a rube. I had this idea that after two years of misery and incompetence — two years of thousands of people dying — Ontario Premier Doug Ford might be in trouble.

My thinking, if it could be considered that, was that surely the NDP under Andrea Horwath would get it together enough to challenge the government for their pandemic failures. 

Now, with election day just a month or so away, the NDP is polling 11 percentage points lower than their 2018 election result. They are nine points behind the Liberals, and 13 points behind the governing Progressive Conservatives.

But it gets much worse. After more than two years of the pandemic, where Ford and his government have done quite poorly, publicly shitting the bed on more than one occasion while people needlessly died, the PCs and the NDP are tied as the parties best able to deal with long-term care (LTC), according to an Abacus poll.

Tied! The government in charge when more than 4,000 seniors died during the pandemic, and the party in direct opposition to it, are seen as equally capable of dealing with long-term care. I can’t think of a bigger sign of failure than this.

A whole 61 per cent of people in the province rate Ford’s performance from acceptable (25 per cent) to good (26 per cent) to excellent (10 per cent). So, while Abacus finds 49 per cent of people want change, a majority still rate Ford’s performance as at least good enough to keep the job. And 35 per cent still see Ford as the best premier.

There are a host of issues with the NDP — here’s a good TVO column by John Michael McGrath on the party considering a person making $200,000 per year middle class, for example — and they all boil down to the fact the party has no idea what it is or wants to be.

Perhaps even more than the federal party under Jagmeet Singh, the Ontario NDP is a visionless vessel that exists mainly to perpetuate itself. 

The party has seemed unsteady in its opposition to Ford, never willing to push too hard lest they be seen as opposing too much. 

Take the debate over mandatory vaccination for teachers. First, Horwath essentially took Ford’s opinion: rapid testing is enough, and it’s your Charter right not to get a shot. Then, whoops, that’s an extremely unpopular opinion that isn’t even opposed to what the government is doing, so she had to backtrack. Actually, Horwath said, she was wrong, she does support mandatory vaccination in health care and education.

Horwath has been the leader of the Ontario NDP since 2009. This will be her fourth election at the helm of the party. Last time around, she was able to best a decaying Liberal government. And since then? Nothing remotely like a clear idea of what the party is doing.

The party dropped its election platform this week. On long-term care they acknowledge what happened was a tragedy, but where’s the urgency, the outrage?

“Doug Ford tried to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic by doing the bare minimum. Tragically, more than 4,000 seniors died during the COVID-19 outbreak in long-term care. People’s parents and grandparents were left to get sick and die alone in horrible conditions,” the platform says. It then adds: “The Ontario NDP has a strong and doable plan to fix our broken home and community care, and long-term care.”

Okay, so they’re not bringing the rage. Maybe that’s best — leave that to folks like me. At least they have a plan! The cornerstone of that plan is to take profit out of long-term care. This is a good idea, as people in care homes run for profit were more likely to die than those in public homes. The platform states: “Fix the system by making it public and not-for-profit: Starting in 2022, an NDP government will begin building a new, public and non-profit home and community care and long-term care system.”

The very frustrating thing about this, however, is it’s not actually their whole plan, but rather the broadest outline of it. They hint there’s more, but you have to know where to look. “In October 2020, the Ontario NDP released a detailed plan to fix home care and long-term care,” the platform says. That report, which they don’t link to, is the full plan for LTC. But I had to ask the party to be sure of this.

Here you see the problem with the party. They’ve got what amounts to a very good idea: immediately stop handing out and renewing licences to for-profit care homes, and start taking them over. But the only way you would know that is if you saw a single line in the platform, and then went and dug out a much more detailed policy document on your own. (Or, like me, asked on Twitter and someone told you where to look. My thanks here to Greg Fingas for pointing me in the right direction.)

On Tuesday, the Liberals also promised to end for-profit long-term care. Their plan isn’t as good — they’d quit handing out licences next year — but the advantage of it is they’ve just said it out loud. They seem to understand there’s about to be an election, and it might actually be about something.

This is a disappointing start to a campaign from the NDP, at the end of an even more disappointing four years in opposition. We should be able to expect better from the ONDP, but that would be a mistake. It’d just be a setup for more disappointment.

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