Hor­wath is the one to watch in elec­tion

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - OPINION -

An­drea Hor­wath’s chances of be­com­ing the next premier of On­tario are bet­ter than in­cum­bent Kath­leen Wynne’s, but she and the New Democrats have much road to cover if they’re to match the com­mand­ing lead held by the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives and Doug Ford.

And yet, Hor­wath and the NDP have never had a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity than now to win.

Track­ing polls rank them sec­ond in this elec­tion campaign while the Lib­er­als are third. At last count, the Tories held 41.1 per cent of sup­port while the NDP held 27.2 per cent. The Lib­er­als have 25.7 per cent.

The gap be­tween Hor­wath’s and Wynne’s par­ties isn’t great, but there is so much anger against the premier that those who hold Lib­eral sym­pa­thies but are un­will­ing to vote Lib­eral might throw their sup­port be­hind the New Democrats. That’s what On­tario’s ele­men­tary teach­ers’ union has done.

Mean­while, the Con­ser­va­tives’ big­gest li­a­bil­ity isn’t plat­form or pol­icy but leader. Ford has been at the party helm only since March 10, but his rep­u­ta­tion pre­cedes him, and that has be­come a cen­ter­piece of an anti-Ford campaign.

No such muck is at­tached to Hor­wath. She’s been NDP leader for more than nine years and a con­sis­tent ad­vo­cate for the party’s tra­di­tional val­ues. Many of those val­ues have been adopted by Wynne and her Lib­er­als, es­pe­cially since the 2014 elec­tion, but the elec­torate holds an over­whelm­ing dis­taste for Wynne. She is her party’s big­gest li­a­bil­ity, as much as Hor­wath is the New Democrats’ big­gest as­set.

That said, it will be an up­hill bat­tle for both. The Con­ser­va­tives have con­sis­tently held the pop­u­lar sup­port of On­tar­i­ans since the last elec­tion. Since then they’ve had three lead­ers — one re­signed im­me­di­ately on elec­tion night, while the other left the helm ear­lier this year on un­proven charges of sexual im­pro­pri­ety. Ford’s as­cent to the lead­er­ship was un­ex­pected and im­prob­a­ble and con­tin­ues to be the Tories’ Achilles heel.

If there is a mark against Hor­wath, it’s her un­will­ing­ness to seize the mo­ment. Five years ago, the Lib­er­als, then with­out a ma­jor­ity and with an untested Wynne, faced the pos­si­bil­ity of los­ing the vote on her first bud­get. The Tories were ea­ger for a fight. It was left to Hor­wath to tip the scale and she didn’t. In­stead, she achieved an un­der­stand­ing with the wily Wynne: The NDP would sup­port the bud­get if the Lib­er­als would sup­port some NDP ini­tia­tives, among them a reduction in car in­sur­ance. Wynne agreed and dodged an elec­tion but then re­neged on her prom­ise of lower in­sur­ance rates. A year later her party won an historic ma­jor­ity.

That’s not likely to hap­pen again.

— Peter Epp

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