When it comes to personality politics in this province, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is the hands down winner over PC Leader Tim Hudak and soon-to-depart Premier Dalton McGuinty.
The friendly smile and firm handshake. The funny little quip. Sharp election commercials that distinguished her from her male counterparts. All that and more worked well for the Hamilton MPP last year in her first provincial election as party leader.
In fact, it is fair to say Horwath even surprised many within her own party with her steady performance on the campaign trail and in the all-important leaders’ debate.
Even though it was first leaders' debate, Horwath was considered by some to have won the 90-minute encounter against her two more experienced debaters.
Overall, while she told the Globe and Mail’s Adam Radwanski that she was "scared to death."
Horwath survived and was successful in what any party leader will tell you is their toughest assignment: that first election campaign. It is a grind, to be sure, that has done in many. But not Horwath. Not in October 2011.
That was then and this is now
But as has often been said at Queen’s Park: that was then and this is now.
Day after day Hudak is laying out the Tory agenda for the next provincial election widely expected in the spring.
One day it’s selling off the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. The next it’s allowing the sale of beer and wine in the corner store or slashing the size of the civil service.
Considered controversial by many and unworkable by some, Hudak’s ideas are at least generating interest.
Those ideas are making headlines not just in Toronto, but more importantly, across the province. That's critical for a man who snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in last year's election.
And Horwath? Who knows? I can’t remember the last time I received her leader’s itinerary. Or the last time I heard from her on CBC or any other radio or television station.
Sure, she did say earlier this week that if elected premier, she would repeal Bill 115, the controversial legislation that allows the province to block a strike.
But more often than not these days, the NDP response to Liberal or PC ideas comes from the likes of Toronto NDP MPP Peter Tabuns. He does a good enough job. But he’s not the party leader.
Horwath has been riding high in the polls since the Kitchener-Waterloo byelection that her party won. That win came when polls suggested she was the most popular of the current crop of leaders.
But more recent polls suggest the McGuinty Liberals, aided perhaps by the Liberal leadership race and the attention being paid to it, are in second place behind the Hudak Tories when it comes to voter intention.
The NDP’s traditional third spot in these polls should serve as a wake-up call that Horwath needs to answer.
With an election imminent in this province, the NDP leader needs to dial down her personality-based approach to campaigning and dial up the policy proposals.
There is much at stake in the next election. But the outcome won’t be decided by a friendly handshake and a funny quip.
Voters will make up their minds based on what’s on offer in the party platforms.
So as Hudak defines himself and his party with a steady rollout of new policy planks, and the Liberals get the public's attention with their leadership race, Horwath needs to do the same, and soon.
She needs to tell Ontarians in a direct way why they should consider voting for her in the next election and not for Hudak or the player to be named later from the Liberal party.
She needs to take every opportunity to get the message out about what she and her party are all about and what that would mean for Ontario.
The stock answer about talking to New Democrats who were there during the province’s tough times in the early 90s is no longer good enough.
Otherwise, all that goodwill and the political gains her party received in the last election may become just a footnote in Wikipedia.