For Andrea Horwath, it’s make or break

Despite the Ontario NDP’s historic showing in 2018, right now the numbers don’t add up to a win in the upcoming election


Who is the real Andrea Horwath? 

That’s the question Doug Ford & Co. are asking in a pre-Thanksgiving fundraising missive to party faithful. 

According to the PCs, the Ontario NDP leader “opposes job killing red tape… plans to raise your taxes… [and] is a politician that says one thing and does another.” 

The last bit is pretty rich coming from the PCs given Ford’s well-known penchant for BS and string of broken promises.

Sure, Horwath has had her share of missteps, including most recently a flip-flop on mandatory vaccines for health care and education workers. 

Still, the full frontal is surprising even by PC standards given we’re months away from an election and the number one rule of engagement in politics is usually to ignore your opponent, not feed their fire. The NDP hasn’t exactly been burning it up in public polls in recent months. Leger’s most recent numbers suggest the party is in third behind the Liberals.

Horwath has been dependable as NDP leader but not necessarily inspiring. 

Last week, the party released an election campaign-style video re-introducing Horwath to voters. Her’s is a commendable story – from community development worker, to Hamilton city councillor and MPP (winning in a by election in Hamilton East after the death of Liberal incumbent Dominic Agostino) to the first woman to lead the NDP in a span of a few short years.

Still, it seems like an odd strategy to be reintroducing to voters someone who has been party leader for more than a decade and has led the NDP through three provincial elections, including the party’s second-best showing in history to Official Opposition status in 2018.

Arguably, that had more to do with the Liberal collapse than voters seeing the NDP as a party that’s ready to govern. 

The jury is still out on Horwath, including among supporters in her party who felt she abandoned the party’s social democratic principles for PC votes with her focus on pocketbook issues in 2014. That triggered a post-election tour to re-connect with the party grassroots. She won a 77 per cent approval in a leadership review that followed.

But despite the party’s showing in 2018, Horwath is still a relative unknown to most Ontario voters. She’s likeable and the NDP has an attractive platform but the all-important personal connection remains mostly absent, which is why there was talk of Jagmeet Singh taking over before he made the jump to federal politics. Horwath has also been conspicuously absent for significance stretches at Queen’s Park, including before the pandemic struck post-election as well as slow to capitalize on Ford’s missteps during it.

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, who doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature, has managed to be out front on a number of issues. At the same time, the NDP seems to be sliding back to historical support levels – even behind the decimated Liberals – in some recent public opinion polling after capturing 34 per cent of the popular vote in 2018.

While Ford has his work cut out for him to get out from under the mess he’s made at critical times during the pandemic, the coming election is also make or break for Horwath.

The good news is that the party sits at 40 seats and Horwath has a number of young bright lights in the NDP caucus she can sell as possible cabinet material. Last week, Horwath was in Don Valley West to pump the candidacy of child advocate Irwin Elman. There’s also more money to spend this time around with fundraising outpacing the Liberals.

The bad news is that, barring an Orange wave, the odds of forming government outright are not in the NDP’s favour. Right now the numbers don’t quite add up.

As it stands, the PCs sit at 70 seats out of 124 after losing half a dozen MPPs to defections and expulsions. The Liberals have seven seats. 

If the NDP can add 10 seats it may be enough to form a minority. But that scenario depends on the NDP holding on to a handful of seats they won by less than a thousand votes, making inroads in untraditional territory and the Liberals returning to pre-pandemic levels and taking seats from the PCs. 

That’s possible in the seven seats the PCs won in Toronto and a handful of others won by the PCs by narrow margins in the 905 north of Toronto in 2018.

But outside of a dozen or so ridings, the margins of victory are substantial enough for the PCs to possibly hold on and win a razor slim majority with 63 seats. At least, that’s the number PC insiders are eyeing. 

A PC minority is possible. And both Horwath and Del Duca have already said they will not prop up a Ford minority government. Could an NDP-Liberal coalition a la David Peterson and Bob Rae be in the offing – only this time with the NDP in government? 

Judging by the early attacks on Horwath, the PCs seem to be at least wary of the possibility. For Horwath, it’s sizing up to be the best-case scenario. Anything short of that would be considered a loss.

@enzodimatteo

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