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New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath plans to set her sights on disaffected Liberal voters. (KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath plans to set her sights on disaffected Liberal voters. (KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Ontario NDP plans to court disgruntled Liberal voters Add to ...

Ontario New Democrats will make a concerted push to win over disaffected Liberal voters in the next election with a series of policies designed to remedy what it will dub “the middle-class squeeze,” The Globe and Mail has learned.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is expected to debut this new messaging on Friday in a speech to a business audience in Kitchener, Ont. A New Democrat source said the party’s policies will include more ideas to create jobs for young adults – who have been hit particularly hard by the economic turbulence of the past few years – as well as measures to help baby boomers taking care of their parents.

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The move comes just months before a possible spring election in which the NDP is expected to fight hard for the province’s southwest, where Liberal support has sunk in recent years, and the left-wing party believes it can peel off enough votes for a major breakthrough. In a nod to the region, Ms. Horwath will back all-day, two-way GO service between Toronto and Kitchener, pitching it as a way to create tens of thousands of jobs in the local economy, the source said.

But the appeal to voters who once favoured the governing party will be provincewide.

Ms. Horwath would not tip her hand in an interview on Thursday.

“We’re going to continue over the next little while to roll out more of our priorities,” she said. “It won’t be surprising in terms of being reflective of what Ontarians are telling us what their priorities are.”

The party has been telegraphing this new focus over the past year, railing against everything from high auto-insurance rates to new transit taxes, saying they unfairly put an extra burden on average Ontarians. But some NDP insiders say the party is ready to move beyond targeted populism and make a broader push for votes with its middle-class appeal.

The shift is part of a longer trend as Ms. Horwath has moved the party’s emphasis away from traditional anti-poverty and social justice causes and toward pocketbook issues. It is also an attempt to find support beyond the NDP’s base of urbane inner-city dwellers and blue-collar workers.

The party is calculating that, with the long, slow decline in Liberal support over the past decade, it can position itself as a better option for centre-left voters and squeeze the Grits out.

Ms. Horwath’s new messaging mirrors that of federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who is building his brand around insisting the middle class is beleaguered and he is the man to help. Mr. Trudeau’s rationale took a drubbing this week when Statistics Canada released a report that showed the median net worth of Canadian families actually grew by 44.5 per cent from 2005 to 2012. Ms. Horwath is expected, in her speech, to point to other StatsCan data that show middle-class incomes have stagnated in recent years.

Ms. Horwath is calculating, like Mr. Trudeau, that middle-class people feel anxious and under pressure, and that the surest path to power is to promise them relief.

Ms. Horwath’s strategy is not without risks. Some party members already grumble she has eschewed the New Democrats’ long-held tradition of big, ambitious policy proposals in favour of smaller pocketbook issues.

So far, the evidence is that her tack is working. In the last general election, Jagmeet Singh captured a seat in Brampton – a suburban city where the NDP had not been competitive – largely on the strength of charisma and promises of cheaper car insurance. And last summer, the New Democrats picked up largely suburban London West in a by-election after the Liberal vote collapsed.

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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