Howard Hampton announced Saturday morning that he was looking to returning to a life with more time for family.
After 13 years and three elections, Howie, as I knew him, will be turning a page next March when he steps down as leader of the Ontario NDP.
His record as leader will show he kept the party alive even in its darkest days. He struggled to increase their seats at Queen’s Park, and the NDP suffered major setbacks in both 1999 and 2003 when many supporters went with the Liberal party to thwarts the Conservatives.
This strategic voting hurt the party and Howard, but he never lost faith with the voters.
I remember a Robbie Burns evening a long time back when Bob Rae had just resigned following a disastrous election that moved the NDP from running the province to third place.
Howard was there and we began a conversation about the possible contenders for the leadership. I had asked if he might be interested.
He didn’t say no, and he speculated about what the new leader would be called upon to do to return credibility to the party in Ontario. I’ll admit I didn’t expect him to run but when he did, he brought a new energy back to the party.
We may not have seen eye-to-eye on every policy and, in fact, probably have disagreed on many. But as leader of the party, his was the voice that rang through the legislature on issues facing the north.
He helped put a face to northern forestry workers when sawmills and plant closings took place. In fact, he sounded the alarm far earlier than even the economists who looked at the economy of the north.
With the announced closing of a General Motors plant in Oshawa, Howard (as he is known in the south of the province) immediately was on the scene, joining the workers who picketed GM headquarters as well as speaking on their behalf at Queen’s Park.
Relentlessly, he has championed the cause of the poor and middle class, arguing for better minimum wages, as well as better health care, day care, and financial support for post-secondary students.
Sometimes he sounded like a broken record, but eventually he was listened to and understood.
When the Conservatives announced the plan to privatize Ontario Hydro, it was Howard who sounded the warning bells and led the fight to stop the plan.
For 13 years as leader, Howie has run full out every day as if it were his last. He indicated he would continue to represent the Kenora-Rainy River riding in the next provincial election.
Since being elected in 1987, Howie has continued to be somewhere in the riding three out of every four weekends. That is a trial when one considers there’s a half-day of travel just getting home.
And throughout every week, he was on the road daily across the province meeting with people and listening to their concerns—and then speaking to the issues.
It didn’t leave a lot of time for his children.
I remember sitting in his Toronto office talking about an issue when two Blackberrys went off. It was his daughter calling him, and an assistant, to remind him that he was late in picking them up from school and taking them to an activity.
He was a little red-faced when he apologized for ending the meeting, but who can blame a father wanting to take time with his children. On Saturday, he talked about his need to spend more time with his son and daughter—something he will be able to do beginning next March.
You’ve done a terrific job, Howard.
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