It's been only a week since the Legislature got back to the business of governing, but amid the pomp and circumstance - and posturing - one thing above all else has been hard not to notice: the fact NDP leader Andrea Horwath has yet to crack that disarming smile.
There's a good reason for that. Not the least of all: the split within labour about whether the NDP should trigger an election. Horwath's been carrying the weight of those conflicting views on her shoulders - and the fear of seeing great NDP expectations wither with it - ever since Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Premier. The whisper campaign has been non-stop.
On the one hand there are the hawks in the labour movement who say the time to go is now while Wynne is still carrying the political baggage from McGuinty's tainted reign. On the other, there are the doves urging caution, for fear of a snap election leaving the province stuck with Tim Hudak's miserable PCs.
In politics, fear is the worst reason to make any decision. Jack Layton, the late NDP leader, preached hope. Seemed to work for Jack. Horwath would prefer to follow that example, but not when her labour allies are so divided.
The push and pull on Horwath has been intense. It's the NDP leader, after all, that made her name and won the party leadership talking up the NDP's need to build closer ties with the province's unions. It's some of her biggest labour supporters, among them Sid Ryan, the Ontario Federation of Labour president, arguing for some kind of an accord with the Libs. Some Liberals seem to think Ryan is expressing the opposite behind closed doors.
Horwath has declared her intentions, at least publicly, not to bring down the minority Liberals as long as a number of NDP demands are met. And there's a growing list on that front, maybe just long enough to prompt the Libs to get their backs up and the NDP to force an election. Is that Horwath's end game? All will be revealed when the budget's tabled in two months time.
In the meantime, Horwath's talking like she's prepared to go to the polls, despite the behind the scenes labour tug-of-war.
On that front there was one particularly telling moment during Question Period last Wednesday, the first under Wynne. It came after the new Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli revealed that more documents related to the canceling of the Mississauga and Oakville gas plants had been uncovered in government computer files. That's the second time more documents have come to light after the Libs said there were no more to be found. Call it a cover up. Or call it bumbling by the bureaucracy. Media opinion is divided.
For Horwath, though, the revelation seemed to be a game changer. "How can anyone trust anything this government says anymore?" was her question.
Strong words - too strong, on the face of it, for a party planning to back a Lib minority. If the Libs can't be trusted, what possibility could there be for the NDP to keep them in power? What message would that send voters?
The next day, Horwath said she would not go to the polls over the gas plant surprise. So perhaps the drama in the legislature was for the cameras after all. Politicians, especially those in the Opposition benches, are given to theatrical flourishes. It's part of the cut and thrust.
Except Horwath is not known as the kind to put on an act for the sake of it. Certainly, that's not the way she made her name in politics. She's from the old school, the daughter of a former autoworker from Hamilton who waited tables to put herself through university. She had harsh words for the Libs after the Throne Speech, too, characterizing passages aimed at making amends with the NDP as "lip service."
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Horwath. After the mess left by Dalton McGuinty, it looked as though she might be poised to take over. She's still the most popular leader in the province, but she's no longer the only woman - previously a decided advantage when it came to peeling off support from disgruntled teachers unions members. Wynne has reversed that trend. Frosty relations between teachers unions and the Libs are thawing.
Public opinion is shifting under Horwath's feet. Voters seem willing to give Wynne a chance, according to one recent poll, mirroring trends of internal polling being conducted by all three parties.
It's also clearer than it was even a month ago that Ontarians might not want an election after all. A lot fewer are hot to go to the polls compared to just a month ago.
Horwath is a scrapper. She's managed to squeeze concessions from the Libs under McGuinty, despite the NDP's third party status. She's poised to do it again. Word is there'll be an olive branch extended by the minority Libs in the budget: a hike in minimum wage, youth employment measures and the closing loopholes on some corporate tax breaks.
Horwath's being asked to make a huge sacrifice - to set aside her party's and her own political ambitions - not just by a public that want to see government work, but by some of her closest political supporters in the labour movement. Question is, will voters remember that next time they go to the polls?
It looks like the Libs have managed to stanch the bleeding with Wynne as leader. They're feeling buoyed. So much so that, should those support numbers for Wynne continue to rise, Wynne hasn't ruled out pulling a David Peterson and going to the polls while the iron is hot, as it were. She said as much in an interview with Steve Paikin on TVO the other day.
In which case, there's more than just the upcoming budget for Horwath, and union bosses urging her to play the long game, to think about.