With this weekend's meeting of their provincial council, sure to include an airing of grievances over last June's election campaign, Ontario New Democrats enter the runup to their November leadership review vote.
While dissidents in the NDP's "socialist caucus" and from organized labour have done little to hide their unhappiness with Andrea Horwath, other grassroots members are still struggling with their decision. That's no wonder, because there are plenty of questions for them to consider, with few easy answers.
Just how discouraging was that election result?
There is a virtual consensus among New Democrats that they were woefully unprepared for a campaign they themselves triggered. But that means the fact that the NDP entered the race with 21 seats and exited with the same number can be interpreted two different ways.
One is that Ms. Horwath squandered the best opportunity she's going to have. Polls showed a strong desire for change from the scandal-plagued Liberals, the Official Opposition Progressive Conservatives imploded, and still the NDP failed to capitalize – instead surrendering the balance of power.
The other is that not losing ground was an indication of how well Ms. Horwath could do if she actually ran a good campaign, and if the Tories didn't run so far to the right that they helped the Liberals rally left-of-centre voters behind them.
In many cases, when leaders haven't met expectations after their second campaign, it's taken as a sign they never will. This is more complicated.
How much was her campaign team to blame?
Since the election, Ms. Horwath has made a show of changing the people around her. She's trumpeted the engagement of party heavyweights Brian Topp and Michael Balagus, the latter of whom was introduced this week as her new chief of staff. Meanwhile, some of her remaining loyalists have unashamedly bashed those who have exited – notably Gisele Yanez, who served both as chief of staff and as campaign director.
There were widespread complaints within the party about Ms. Horwath's erstwhile inner circle being too insular and aloof, so the overhaul could help deflect some of the post-campaign anger. It could also look a bit like she's thrown others under the bus to save her skin.
Can she move enough to the left for core supporters' liking?
Ms. Horwath has been trying to make amends to New Democrats who feel the party abandoned its traditional turf in its unsuccessful pursuit of power. Whereas during the campaign she seemed almost to be running from the Liberals' right, she has since accused them of sneaking through a "Trojan horse budget" more fiscally conservative than it appears. And this week, she launched an anti-privatization campaign clearly aimed at the union activists and downtown Toronto New Democrats most unhappy with her.
Still, it's difficult to imagine that Ms. Horwath will be willing to completely abandon her efforts of the past half-decade to present herself as a different sort of New Democrat – especially since opinion research shows that despite her poor campaign, her pragmatism won over some new supporters.
She can be expected to try to do a better job of appealing to those already inside her tent, even as she tries to expand it. But she'll probably never be the right leader for New Democrats who see their party as the province's social conscience.
Is there a suitable replacement waiting in the wings?
To her credit, Ms. Horwath has attracted some MPPs who could be credible leadership candidates. Those include Catherine Fife, now finance critic, and Jagmeet Singh, who has given the party a foothold in the Greater Toronto Area.
But neither Ms. Fife nor Mr. Singh seems to be making a push; even if they were, their own pragmatism could be disconcerting to New Democrats who want to go back to core values. The party's base could look to someone like downtown Toronto MPP Peter Tabuns, but he would be an odd fit for a caucus now mostly from rural and small-city Ontario.
Leaders have been tossed overboard in parties with fewer alternatives. Still, New Democrats can't just judge Ms. Horwath against their ideal.