Andrea Horwath has been elected the new Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party. She easily prevailed Saturday night on the third ballot of a leadership convention, taking 60.4 per cent of the vote. Her challenger, Peter Tabuns, won 39.6 per cent. Michael Prue and Gilles Bisson had earlier been eliminated. Ms. Horwath is the first woman to lead the Ontario NDP and only the second female leader of a major party in provincial history.
"I am humbled by your confidence," she told delegates. Ms. Horwath, 46, takes over from Howard Hampton, who served nearly 13 years as party leader. Later, Ms. Horwath said voters shouldn't expect any dramatic changes from the Hampton years. "I have my own style, my own perspective and I'm going to bring that to the table but I have the same caucus that Howard worked with," she told reporters.
The Hamilton native, a former community organizer and city councillor, was first elected to the legislature in a 2004 by-election. This weekend's leadership convention was the last chapter in a low-key, eight-month campaign to replace Mr. Hampton.
Mr. Hampton helped re-establish the party after its devastating defeat in the 1995 election. But there is considerable frustration within the ranks that NDP support has remained low. In the 2007 election, the party received 16.8 per cent of the votes cast.
The contest was overshadowed by the economic crisis and the prolonged search for a seat in the legislature by Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory.
There were 23,908 New Democrats eligible to vote in the one-member, one-vote system with 25 per cent of the votes going to affiliated unions.
For the first time, eligible voters were given the option of casting an advance ballot online, by phone or by mail before the convention. Party officials said 11,150 members had exercised this option and has listed their preference for candidates in case more than one ballot was needed.
Nearly 1,000 delegates registered for the convention but even those who did not attend were able to vote today by phone or on line during each round of voting and could watch the proceedings on the party's web site.
Before the vote, Mr. Bisson, 51, told delegates that he had heard talk that the party could not afford another leader from the north because it needed to break through in southern, urban areas - particularly Toronto.
"I make the following proposition: what's wrong with northern Ontario?" he said, noting the NDP's historical success provincially and federally in the region.
He said the quality of a leader's ideas is more important that where the leader comes from.
Mr. Prue, 60, touted his experience as mayor of East York, a former Toronto borough that was amalgamated into the larger city a decade ago.
He said he was able to win as a New Democrat because he could reach beyond party ranks and he boasted that he brought in five balanced budgets without raising taxes.
Mr. Prue said the Ontario NDP needed a leader with experience in order to get the party ready for the 2011 election.
"We can't wait for someone to grow into the job," he said.
Peter Tabuns, 57, a former Greenpeace leader, emphasized his environmental background in challenging the NDP to face Ontario's problems in a new way.
He said the collapse of the manufacturing sector is occurring against the background of a climate-change crisis. He sought to link the two by advocating the creation of a green economy based on public transit and renewable energy.
"Creating jobs tomorrow requires that we act upon the environment today," Mr. Tabuns said.
Ms. Horwath, 46, who has closer links to organized labour than the other candidates, talked passionately about the NDP sticking to its left-wing principles.
She peppered her speech with references to "thieves" and "scab labour." She said the "neo-liberal experiment had imploded" and pledged that "we New Democrats won't check our socialism at the door when it comes to building a better future."