Andrea Horwath’s office is in the midst of a shakeup following the New Democrats’ poor election result in June, with her two top aides scheduled to leave over the summer. Long-serving chief of staff Gissel Yanez and principal adviser Elliott Anderson are both heading out the door as the party regroups, sources told The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Horwath, who faces a leadership review in November, is also trying to mend fences with NDP rank-and-file. She is sitting down with riding executives and others who were on the ground during the campaign, and planning a series of roundtables across the province. Disgruntled grassroots members – many of whom were already unhappy with Ms. Horwath’s populist direction before the vote – have also been quietly meeting to discuss how to reshape the party.
“We’ll be spending some time … to connect to the grassroots of our party over the next little while,” Ms. Horwath said this week. “That’s important work that I need to do to get some feedback to do some thinking and figure out a way forward.”
Ms. Yanez has been at the centre of Ms. Horwath’s circle for years, running her successful leadership bid in 2009 and helming both of the last general election campaigns. Mr. Anderson is a Queen’s Park veteran who also worked under former leader Howard Hampton. Two party insiders said the NDP months ago gamed out transition plans for every possible election result. One source said Ms. Yanez and Mr. Anderson might still play active roles in the party after leaving Queen’s Park. No decision has been made on their replacements.
Publicly, Ms. Horwath has shown little contrition over the election, in which the NDP lost the balance of power in the legislature. Behind the scenes, however, everything is on the table at Ms. Horwath’s consultations, including party policy and how it campaigns. One source said the discussions are not focused on the November convention but more broadly on the party’s strategy for the new parliament.
Dissatisfied rank and file, primarily in Toronto where the NDP lost three seats, are already meeting on their own. At one gathering at the Steelworkers Hall in downtown Toronto two weekends ago, NDP members vented their anger over Ms. Horwath’s advisers, said a source who was in the room. But they concluded it would be too divisive to challenge Ms. Horwath’s leadership directly.
That meeting drew such prominent figures as CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn and long-time party activist Janet Solberg, the source said.
Ms. Solberg said party members are gathering “in many different venues and capacities,” including a meeting of Toronto organizers next Thursday. She said she and two other riding association presidents sat down with Ms. Horwath Friday.
“Toronto lost three seats which is why we sought a meeting with Andrea to discuss the many important issues and problems that arose prior to and during the election,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The meeting was useful and honest and respectful.”
Mr. Hahn declined to comment in any detail, but hinted there are matters to be “decided” within the NDP.
“I’d prefer to keep those debates inside the party,” he said in an interview.
Some party insiders contend Ms. Horwath’s decision to focus on populism instead of big-picture policy alienated the party base. Others, meanwhile, point to tactical mistakes. The NDP had trouble explaining at the outset why it had forced an election by rejecting the Liberals’ left-tilting budget.
Defeated Toronto MPP Jonah Schein said the party should have done a better job before the election of making clear it was voting down the government because of its record of spending scandals.
“There were a lot of voters who were angry about that fact that we were having an election at all,” he said in an interview. “We had to say: We don’t have confidence in this government because they put their own interest above the public interest time and time again. If that story had been laid out more clearly in advance, I think the narrative would have been different.”
Mr. Schein contends that, despite his loss, Ms. Horwath has done a good job broadening the party’s support in non-traditional NDP constituencies. The party gained seats in Sudbury, Oshawa and Windsor, and largely supplanted the Liberals as the dominant centre-left force in the province’s southwest.
“We have to make sure we’re speaking to a broad audience,” he said.