Support for Horwath's leadership, but questions too
Horwath 'contentious but never pretentious,' Coun. Merulla says
Andrea Horwath is ready to keep fighting for her party's priorities — but is her party prepared to keep her as leader?
Despite increasing the party's popular vote, there are questions about her future as leader of the New Democratic Party after triggering an election that handed Kathleen Wynne's Liberals a majority government.
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Despite the NDP gains, Horwath will have less influence in the next session of provincial parliament than she did during the Liberals' two-and-a-half-year minority mandate, during which the Hamilton Centre MPP and her party held the balance of power.
And she has bridges to repair with unions and a group of influential NDP supporters who were critical of her election call and didn't offer their support during the campaign.
None of that came up during Horwath's speech to supporters Thursday, where her focus was carrying on.
"And I know that perhaps people weren't hoping for this particular result tonight but New Democrats are fighters and we are going to keep fighting for the things that matter most. For the things that matter most for the families in Ontario."
And she added: "Tomorrow morning, we apply ourselves to the job people have given us."
Federal NDP MP Dave Christopherson for Hamilton Centre said Horwath will carry on as leader because she still has a bright political future. "When she started, everyone around that table said we see you not only as a future leader of the party but future premier and I’d be disappointed if she was focused on anything else now or in the foreseeable future.
"Andrea’s just such a quality representative and a quality leader that I still believe she can and will become premier and I would love for her to stay focused and continuing on in this arena," he said.
He said the Horwath will recover from Thursday's results and think about what needs to be done.
"She’ll get up tomorrow and she’ll brush the dust off and if there’s a little bleeding that needs to be stopped, she’ll do that too. She’ll pick herself up and march forward and she’ll be ready to go whenever the next election is."
Daughter of a steelworker
Horwath is the daughter of an autoworker. She worked as a cocktail waitress to pay for her tuition while attending McMaster University. After graduation, she became a prominent community organizer in Hamilton's industrial east end.
Horwath's activism included organizing the 1996 "Days of Action" against the Mike Harris Conservatives that drew 50,000 people.
In 1997, Horwath was elected to city council representing Ward 2 in Hamilton’s inner city.
She can be contentious but she’s never pretentious.- Hamilton Coun. Sam Merulla
Horwath was “very assertive, almost aggressive to the point where she knew what she wanted,” Said fellow councillor Sam Merulla.
After three terms on city council, Horwath became MPP for the now-defunct riding of Hamilton East in a 2004 byelection. It gave the NDP the additional seat needed to get official party status. That brought $1 million in funding, prompting then-leader Howard Hampton to call her the "million-dollar woman."
In 2006, she won the riding of Hamilton Centre, where she’s won handily ever since. Her constituents react to her, Merulla said, because she encompasses many of Hamilton’s working-class qualities.
“She’s humble. She’s real,” Merulla said. “She can be contentious but she’s never pretentious.”
In 2009, Horwath defeated Peter Tabuns and Michael Prue to become leader of the NDP, making her the party's first female leader in Ontario. Under Horwath’s leadership, the NDP have captured ridings it didn’t typically have, such as London and Kitchener-Waterloo, said Peter Graefe, a political scientist at McMaster University.
Horwath’s weakness, he said, is that she “didn’t necessarily tend to the homefront when she went out to court voters,” he said.
Since day one, Andrea Horwath has not been able to catch a break from the media.- Warren "Smokey" Thomas, president of OPSEU
In trying to branch out, members of Horwath’s base became disenfranchised, eventually leading to 34 traditional NDP supporters writing a letter saying they were “deeply distressed” that Horwath seemed to be running to the right of the Conservatives.
“I don’t think she’s succeeded in doing that,” Graefe said of keeping her base. “And I think that most likely will be her Achilles heel if she doesn’t get more votes tonight.”
Horwath hasn’t been afraid to take gambles, he said, whether it be triggering an election after the last Liberal budget or trying to appeal to more right-wing voters with talk of cuts to taxes and auto insurance.
“That’s a boldness of imagination,” he said.
As a leader, Horwath has been progressive, said Jerry Dias, president of Unifor National, and "her personal ratings have been exceptional. But we’re going to see whether her personal ratings will wear that."
For potential successors, Graefe speculates that newer MPPs such as Jagmeet Singh or Cheri DiNovo might be heir apparents.
OPSEU president Warren “Smokey” Thomas said Thursday that he wants Horwath to stay.
“Since day one, Andrea Horwath has not been able to catch a break from the media,” he said. “Every panel has been stacked against her.”
Horwath “has brought fiscal prudence and social liberalism,” he said. “She’s brought the province honesty and integrity.”