As she rides a surge in the polls, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is having to defend her readiness to lead the country’s largest economy as the party faces criticism about its fiscal responsibility.
In a sign that they now view her as a credible threat, the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have been launching daily attacks on her party. However, after nine years as her party’s leader, Ms. Horwath says she’s a real alternative to her two opponents and is ready to be premier.
“People keep switching back between Liberals and Conservatives, they’ve done that for the history of our province and things aren’t looking great for everyday families,” she told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board in a one-hour session on Wednesday. She also distanced herself from the last NDP leader to be premier. “I’m not Bob Rae, there’s no doubt about that, and this isn’t 1990. This is a different time in Ontario.”
With voters heading to the polls on June 7, the New Democrats entered the election campaign with a platform that called for billions of dollars in additional spending, notably on a new child-care program that would provide subsidized care for most children and a universal dental-care program. Ms. Horwath acknowledged a $1.4-billion error in the platform, which underestimated the projected deficit, but said her party addressed the issue promptly.
While Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne has often leaned on former Toronto-Dominion Bank president Ed Clark for advice during her time as premier, Ms. Horwath said she has no similar adviser from Bay Street to call on, but said she had worked as NDP leader to build better links with Ontario’s business leaders.
Ms. Horwath defended her party’s position to make Ontario a so-called “sanctuary province” for refugees. As an example of what that would mean, she said hospitals would be ordered not to ask people for proof of insurance before giving them care and refugees would need to be provided with better housing at a time when many are being sent to shelter beds.
If her party were to form the government, the NDP would begin the buyback of Hydro One, an electrical transmission utility that was partially privatized by the Wynne government. Ms. Horwath said there was “absolute anger and frustration” across Ontario over the sale of just more than half of Hydro One, the proceeds of which the Liberal government said were needed to fund infrastructure projects.
Along with helping keep hydro rates low, she said her party’s promise of cheaper child care would help young families afford increasingly expensive housing, especially in Metro Toronto.
“The average person is thinking, ‘When do I get to benefit from a booming economy?’ If I’m an average person in Ontario, my wages have been flat for a decade, while the wealthy got wealthier,” Ms. Horwath said.
With her party promising deficits for its first four years in power, Ms. Horwath said her focus would not be on balancing the books right away.
If the economy were to go into recession and deficits began to grow quickly, she said her goal would be not to stick to a path to a balanced budget, but to ensure that “everyday families can weather the storm.”
Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University, said Ms. Horwath is following a path similar to Mr. Rae, who became premier in 1990. “It’s her lucky year, just like it was Bob Rae’s lucky year in 1990. She ought to embrace it, you saw what happened. He started out third and won a majority,” he said.
Ms. Horwath’s support has been growing over the campaign, said Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at King’s University College at Western University. “There just seems to be a slow and steady rise since Horwath presented herself as an option for premier, and that’s coincided with a steady decline for the PCs since early May.”
Speaking in southern Ontario, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford warned on Wednesday that Ms. Horwath’s party is not ready to form the government. “They aren’t competent to govern, I’m just telling you the truth,” he said. “We’ve seen 15 years of Liberal regime but the NPD would be an absolute disaster.”
Liberal campaign director David Herle said in a statement on Wednesday that the election was now at a deciding moment. “With Ford Conservatives drifting down to their base, anti-Ford voters are choosing their option. The initial movement was to the NDP because of the desire for change after 15 years. However, the NDP have failed to close the deal,” he wrote.
The party debuted a new advertising campaign featuring Ms. Wynne on Wednesday in which she says, “I can do better.”