Hampton vows to work hard on local issues

Peggy Revell

Kenora-Rainy River riding will be seeing a lot more of MPP Howard Hampton now that he’s officially retired as leader of the Ontario NDP.
“I’ll have more time than ever to focus on the issues in our part of the province,” Hampton remarked after Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath took over the helm at a weekend leadership convention.
“I’m going to work just as hard as I’ve always worked,” Hampton vowed. “I’ll be in the constituency more than ever because I won’t have to travel all over Ontario now.
“I can, more or less, focus on doing my job in the legislature and doing my job in the riding.”
Hampton announced he was stepping down as leader of the NDP last June after almost 13 years in the job.
But he stressed the decision doesn’t spell the end for his time as an MPP since he has plans to run in the next provincial election slated for 2011.
“I will be bothering people, probably more than ever, as we move towards 2011,” he laughed.
“There’s lots of work to do,” Hampton added, who then slammed the McGuinty Liberals for forgetting about Northern Ontario in favour of the Greater Toronto Area.
“There’s lots of issues to raise, and lots of issues to work on, and I’m going to be very happy to be able to focus on those,” he remarked.
“One of the things that has happened over the last 13 years is that you get to know the senior people in the civil service really well, you know who they are,” Hampton explained in reference to his experience as NDP leader.
“You can call them up on any major issue, have a good conversation with them.
“So that’s not going to change,” he said. “The work that I’ve done over the last 13 years will help me continue to do the work effectively.”
Hampton also had nothing but praise for Horwath, who stands as the first female leader of the provincial NDP.
“I’m very happy that Andrea Horwath is the new leader,” he remarked. “She’s smart, she’s thoughtful, but at the same time she’s young, at the same time she’s got a lot of experience as a former Hamilton city councillor, and I think that she’ll bring tremendous energy to the job.”
As someone who knows what it’s like looking for child care spaces, battling for special education, and now struggling to find a long-term care bed for her own mother, Hampton said Horwath knows “from first-hand experience many of the struggles that people are facing.”
Meanwhile, with 13 years of party leadership now behind him, Hampton is proud of his achievements.
“I know that we forced both the Conservatives and the Liberals to respond to issues that they didn’t even want to think about,” he said.
This includes standing up against the privatization and deregulation of the province’s electricity system, Hampton noted, at a time when both the Liberals and Conservatives were “enthralled” with the Enron corporation of the United States.
“It was under my leadership that the NDP said, ‘No this would be a disaster. You never want to privatize, deregulate something that is so important to people,’ and we were right.
“Enron turned out to be one of the greatest financial disasters, one of the greatest financial swindles ever in the United States, and dozens of people went to jail over it,” Hampton stressed. “But for the NDP, the Conservatives and the Liberals would have been very happy to completely privatize and deregulate our electricity system, and then we’d be in even more trouble that we are today.”
Making the issue of minimum wage show up on the public radar screen is another accomplishment Hampton cited when the Conservatives froze it and the Liberals “didn’t even want to talk about it.”
“As a result of our concentration on the minimum wage, the Liberals have been forced to raise the minimum wage each year a little bit,” he noted. “It’s still below the poverty line, but it’s a lot better than it was.
“But that issue never would have gotten on the public radar screen but for the work that we did.”
Another accomplishment Hampton cited was the role of the NDP in challenging attempts by both the Conservatives and Liberals to privatize health care.
“If we weren’t there to raise those issues, both the McGuinty Liberals and Conservatives would have, again, privatized huge aspects of Ontario’s hospital system,” he argued.