Andrea Horwath’s chances of becoming the next premier of Ontario are better than incumbent Kathleen Wynne’s, but she and the New Democrats have much road to cover if they’re to match the commanding lead held by the Progressive Conservatives and Doug Ford.
And yet, Horwath and the NDP have never had a better opportunity than now to win an election.
Tracking polls rank them second in this election campaign while the Liberals are third. At last count, the Tories held 41.1 per cent of support while the NDP held 27.2 per cent. The Liberals have 25.7 per cent.
The gap between the parties of Horwath and Wynne isn’t great, but there is so much anger against the premier and her party that those who hold Liberal sympathies but are unwilling to vote Liberal might possibly throw their support behind the New Democrats. Indeed, that’s what Ontario’s elementary teachers’ union has done.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives’ biggest liability isn’t platform or policy but its leader. Ford has only been at the party helm since March 10 but his reputation precedes him, and that has become a centrepiece of an anti-Ford campaign.
No such muck is attached to Andrea Horwath. She’s been NDP leader for over nine years and has been a consistent advocate for the party’s traditional values. Much of those values have been adopted by Wynne and her Liberals, especially since the 2014 election, but the electorate holds an overwhelming distaste for Wynne. She is her party’s biggest liability, as much as Horwath is the New Democrats’ biggest asset.
That said, it will be an uphill battle for both. The Conservatives have consistently held the popular support of Ontarians since the last election, an election they should have won but didn’t. Since then they’ve had three leaders – one resigned immediately on election night, while the other left the helm earlier this year on unproven charges of sexual impropriety. Ford’s ascent to the leadership was unexpected and improbable and continues to be the Tories’ Achilles heel in this campaign.
If there is a mark against Horwath, it’s her unwillingness to seize the moment. Five years ago, the Liberals – then without a majority and with an untested Wynne (having won the leadership in early 2013) – faced the possibility of losing the vote on her first budget. The Tories were naturally lined up against the budget and eager for a fight. It was left to Horwath to tip the scale and she didn’t. Instead, she achieved an understanding with the wily Wynne: The NDP would support the budget if the Liberals would support some NDP initiatives, among them a reduction in car insurance. Wynne agreed and dodged an election but then reneged on her promise of lower insurance rates. A year later her party won an historic majority.
That’s not likely to happen again.