In the second-last day of campaigning before Ontario's election, NDP leader Andrea Horwath made a mad dash through the province's north and pledged to bring jobs and health care to the region.
Ms. Horwath has targeted the region, which has fallen on hard times with the decline of manufacturing and losses of blue-collar work, hoping to capitalize on both her party's history in the region and disaffection with the governing Liberals in places that have often felt left out of the prosperity in Greater Toronto.
As the tenor of the campaign ratcheted up, she had to defend her job creation plans from accusations of protectionism, while a Liberal candidate in Timmins-James Bay compared the folksy leader to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin on local radio.
Some have charged that compelling companies that mine in the north to process those metals in-province, as she proposes to do, would dissuade investment, as would raising corporate tax rates.
“The strategy of across-the-board tax cuts to corporations has failed so far,” she said at the party's headquarters in Sudbury. “We're not just going to sit on our hands and let natural resources be transferred out of the province.”
Her pitch clearly resonated with David Eckert, 24, who recently graduated from the local college and fears he won't find work in town.
“We're seeing a lot of out-migration, because there aren't a lot of jobs in the north,” said Mr. Eckert, a lifelong Sudbury resident who is loathe to move away. “I enjoy visiting the big cities, but if you grew up here, you want to stay.”
Sheila McKillop, a 53-year-old social services worker, used to support the Liberals but became disenchanted with that party because, she said, it didn't keep its promises.
“We have been ignored for so many years,” she said. “The benefits end up going to people in the south.”
Ms. Horwath made her pitch at the crowded campaign office of Paul Loewenberg, who is hoping to unseat Municipal Affairs Minister Rick Bartolucci, surrounded by supporters and flanked by candidates from various northern ridings.
Her speech, punctuated by frequent cheers, included pledges to hire at least 50 more doctors and bring more medical equipment to the area.
“You have a choice on Oct. 6 – between a government that puts the north first or a government that ships your resources and your jobs elsewhere,” she said, as a small child ran around the podium snapping photos. “A government that listens to the north or a government that tells the north what was decided in Toronto.”
The trip is her fourth to the north, which she visited on the campaign's second day. She has taken square aim at Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty in the region, slamming him for skipping a debate on northern issues with herself and Tory Tim Hudak. Mr. McGuinty, for his part, is spending the final stretch of the campaign along highway 401, the primary artery in the south.
And Ms. Horwath made explicit she had not had any discussions with the Grit chief about teaming up after the election.
“I haven't even been having nightmares of that. So, no,” she said.
As for the Sarah Palin comparison, she laughed.
“Here we go again,” she said, “with that way of doing things, that sort of attack.”
Ms. Horwath is set to campaign in Thunder Bay Tuesday afternoon. She will spend Wednesday criss-crossing southern Ontario.