New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath built a campaign on the idea that Ontarians wanted change. She has been proven wrong, and has manoeuvred her party out of a position of relative power in the process – triggering an election in which it failed to score gains from an embattled and scandal-plagued Liberal government.
The NDP made a calculated play for power – pulling the plug on a left-leaning budget – at a time when the Liberals were weakened by scandal, and assumed the Progressive Conservatives would face the same struggles as they did in 2011. Those struggles proved even more severe, but the imagined gains at the expense of the Liberals did not materialize. The result raises questions now about the leadership of Ms. Horwath, who some say has led her party astray from its founding values.
On Thursday night, Ms. Horwath said she had no regrets about calling the election and pointed to an increase in the popular vote to defend her campaign.
"None whatsoever. It was the right decision to make at the time," she said, "and people now have had their choice. And so we will work with that choice and make sure we will deliver for them."
And she tried to console the party faithful gathered in Stoney Creek, Ont, where a crowd had been sparse and quiet throughout the evening. "Perhaps people weren't hoping for this particular result tonight, but we are fighters and we will keep fighting," she told the crowd.
Ms. Horwath forced the election with high hopes of expanding the NDP's reach across the province, beyond the 21 seats the party held when the writ was dropped.
She was sluggish out of the gate, waiting longer than expected to produce a platform, part of an expectation that voters would not tune in early and would experience fatigue with a long campaign.
Ms. Horwath became aggressive in the final two weeks, with Ms Wynne as her primary target. Even though she had propped up a Liberal minority government, she called the party corrupt and called out Ms. Wynne for scandals such as the cancellation of the gas plants, financial irregularities at the Ornge air ambulance service, and the potential bailout of the MaRS innovation centre in downtown Toronto.
Along the way, Ms. Horwath raised the ire of long-standing party faithful, who accused her in an open letter of abandoning the NDP's central values in favour of pocketbook populism. She packed the last day of the campaign with a sweep of the province, and left MPPs in key Toronto ridings to defend their turf alone.
The red wave in the city of Toronto swept away the stronghold of Trinity-Spadina, held by Rosario Marchese for 25 years and handily won by the Liberals' Han Dong with several thousand votes, and the NDP was fighting to survive late Thursday night in Beaches-East York, which Michael Prue has held since 2001.
The campaign defended the strategy in the city.
"Andrea was there," said Alex Callahan, a campaign spokesperson of the downtown Toronto ridings. "I think the Liberals made it clear that their strategy was to go after downtown Toronto. At the end of the day, we picked up seats, which is going in the right direction."
Still, NDP advisers remained hopeful the party would make an impact in the new legislature.
"We've seen them flash left and turn right in the past," Karl Bélanger, a senior adviser to federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, said of the Liberals. "Meanwhile, you have a Conservative Party that is in disarray."