It was one of the stranger moments of Ontario's young election campaign so far.
"We know that the government we had was on a track to privatize the TTC," Andrea Horwath pronounced on CBC Radio on Monday morning. When that brought a flabbergasted response from host Matt Galloway, who has covered Toronto's transit debate extensively and said he had never heard any such thing, the NDP Leader insisted it was "very, very clear that that's the case."
When pressed, in the interview and afterward, it turned out Ms. Horwath was referring to public-private partnerships to build transit lines. She was picking up on a campaign recently launched by a local union that seems to boil down to concerns about maintenance and electrical jobs being outsourced – something that falls a shade short of the selloff of the entire system she implied.
Ms. Horwath was hardly the first politician to exaggerate or misrepresent an opponent's policies while on the campaign trail. But there is a bit of a disconcerting pattern of her struggling to back up her claims with facts.
There was, for instance, her visit a couple of weeks ago with this newspaper's editorial board. Asked whether new rules were needed for the use of legislative funds, after The Globe and Mail reported that a transparency gap allowed Ontario parties to quietly direct public dollars to friends and allies, Ms. Horwath replied that, with the NDP's encouragement, the province's integrity commissioner was looking at the matter. When asked, the commissioner's office indicated the review to which Ms. Horwath was referring actually was about something else, and caucus spending wasn't under its scope.
That confusion, and even the TTC claim, might be chalked up to a bad brief. But it's harder to think of any logical explanation for what happened during the leaders' debate in the last election.
That was when Ms. Horwath, trying to make a point about health-care spending, said that when her teenaged son suffered a fractured elbow, he was told by his local hospital that it couldn't afford a cast and that someone at home could help him with a sling. When the hospital pushed back, saying it had never received a complaint on the matter and that some fractures don't need to be treated with casts, she backtracked by saying: "The way it was put was that there's no need to spend money on a cast because it's not necessary."
At that time, Ms. Horwath was a fresh face who wasn't really perceived to be in the running to win government, and the episode received less attention than it probably would have if it had involved Dalton McGuinty or Tim Hudak. But this time around, Ms. Horwath is a veteran leader whose party enters the race more competitive. So, as her generally tough CBC interview suggested, she can expect a greater level of scrutiny.
One overstep, while all leaders were struggling to get their legs under them at the sudden start of the campaign, doesn't mean she won't hold up under the microscope. But if she wants to be taken seriously as a potential premier, she really can't afford to keep doing this kind of thing.