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article imagePopulist Canadian New Democrat Peter Kormos dies at 60

By Ken Hanly     Mar 31, 2013 in Politics
Welland - Peter Kormos, a long time former member of the Ontario legislature and outspoken, popular politician, was found dead in his Welland Ontario apartment Saturday morning. The immediate cause of death was not announced. The cause is under investigation.
Kormos was a very popular New Democratic member of the Ontario provincial parliament. Both a populist and idealist he often refused to adapt to the party line and leadership. He wore his trademark cowboy boots and often a turtleneck sweater in the legislature. He spoke plainly, was gregarious, and always a maverick.
Not surprisingly he was a thorn in the side not only of opposition parties but of his own. In spite of his strong political views he was able to form friendships with his ideological opposites. Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath said in an interview:“He was a fighter for the underdog and he maintained that commitment to the people who are struggling every day. No matter how smart he was, no matter how strategic he was, he would have people flocking to him at the market and the fire hall and the dry cleaner when he went out in his riding.”
Kormos was born to a working class family in Welland in 1952. At the height of the 1960s counterculture he was expelled from high school for leading a student strike over the principal's veto power over the student council. From age 16, Kormos lived on his own and paid his own way through prestigious Osgood Hall Law School by working in a bookstore. He returned to Welland as a criminal defense lawyer.
Kormos won a seat in the Ontario legislature in 1988. Now interim federal Liberal leader Bob Rae helped in his campaign. Rae was then a leader of the provincial NDP. Rae said:“He was a terrific natural politician. He was very good with people in his constituency. He understood the old adage that all politics is local – he understood that better than anybody. Whatever factory we walked through or a couple of local restaurants, he was just extremely, extremely popular, very personable. He knew everybody, was very engaged with people and people liked him a lot.”
Although Rae appointed Kormos a cabinet minister when the NDP won the 1990 election, the two soon parted ways. Kormos was particularly annoyed that Rae refused to honor a pledge to bring in public auto insurance to Ontario. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba had for years had the popular insurance in place and still do. Kormos was dropped from the Rae cabinet and became a left critic of his own party. He voted against Rae's Social Contract package designed to reign in government spending.
Kormos was in his element criticizing the quite right wing Harris Conservative government that won power in 1995. He helped keep the party afloat even after the disaster of the late Rae years in power and its consequent defeat.
In 2009 Kormos supported the present Ontario leader Andrea Horwath in her run for leader. Horwath said:“For me [his support] was more than just a political boost in the course of the campaign, because Peter was a legend in the NDP even then. He was top-notch in his intellect and his strategy.”
As a maverick, Kormos was not above engaging in political theater to make his point: "...a Liberal MPP took umbrage with Mr. Kormos’s attire – an open-necked shirt with the sleeves rolled up and no tie – and moved to have the legislature adopt a suit-and-tie dress code. In protest, Mr. Kormos organized a caucus protest: his fellow NDP MPPs showed up in the House one day all dressed like him, while Mr. Kormos wore a tuxedo."
Even the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak had praise for Kormos:“Eloquent, informed, by turns fiery and analytical, he was an iconic figure in the New Democratic Party, and beyond. Peter represented true democratic representation at its best. It’s rarely said – and in the best sense of the phrase – by politicians these days when speaking of someone so diametrically opposed in beliefs and convictions, but I can say with sad confidence on this day, ‘We shall not see his like again’.”
Kormos represented an older NDP ideology of socialist economic values with a populist, working-class presentation.He opposed the Third Way movement made famous by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and adopted to a considerable extent by the various NDP parties in Canada.
More about Peter Marcos, Bob Rae, Ontario NDP
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