Analysis

NDP faces tougher scrutiny as Andrea Horwath rises in polls

It's been 28 years since the Ontario NDP had a real shot at winning an election. That's so long ago that the SkyDome was still brand new, and only a select few carried cellphones, which were the size of bricks.

PCs and Liberals hammer at NDP's platform and candidates

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath makes a campaign stop at the Ironworkers Local 721 training centre in Toronto on Tuesday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

It's been 28 years since the Ontario NDP had a real shot at winning an election. That's so long ago that the SkyDome in Toronto was still brand new, Justin Bieber hadn't been born, and only a select few carried cellphones, which were the size of bricks.

The shock NDP victory in 1990 made Bob Rae the province's first — and so far only — New Democratic premier. The NDP has finished third in every election since then, never taking more than 21 seats, never winning more than 24 per cent of the popular vote. 

Fast forward to 2018: Can this time be different for Andrea Horwath's party? 

CBC's Poll Tracker suggests the NDP is narrowing the PC lead as the campaign nears its midway point. The NDP is taking its leader's tour to ridings where the party has not been competitive for years. And the mounting attacks from the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals clearly show they consider Horwath a real threat.

PC Leader Doug Ford proved Tuesday how much he's worried about Horwath when asked how he would ensure everyone has access to a family doctor. He spent eight seconds talking about the question but not answering it, then pivoted abruptly to an attack on the New Democrats that had nothing to do with doctors. 

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford makes a campaign stop at the Royal Canadian Legion in Pickering on Tuesday. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Ford slammed what he called "a radical NDP that wants to raise your taxes, raise your hydro rates, raise gas prices, make it unaffordable to live and work, even if you have a job after the NDP — if God forbid — they ever got in."   

It was the second PC news conference on Tuesday clearly aimed at trying to undermine support for the New Democrats. In the first, the PC candidate for Nepean, Lisa MacLeod, went after the "radical and extreme views" of some NDP candidates, including one who refuses to wear a poppy around Remembrance Day. 

On the campaign trail, Horwath is trying to take it in stride. 

"I'm somebody who values very much the people who served our country," Horwath said Tuesday during a campaign event at an ironworkers training hall. "I've always been to Remembrance Day ceremonies. People have varying opinions, though, on how to or whether to mark the Remembrance Day ceremonies. That's their individual choice." 

In addition to the questions about some NDP candidates, Horwath is being challenged on parts of her platform, including: 

  • Requiring all employers to provide basic dental benefits to workers and their families.
  • Raising the corporate tax rate to 13 per cent (currently 11.5 per cent).
  • Declaring Ontario a sanctuary province. (The platform says this would mean "people can access basic services without fear, regardless of their immigration status.") 

"We believe that if somebody is brought into an emergency ward bleeding with traumatic injuries, we don't have to ask for their passport before treating them," Horwath said Tuesday when asked about the sanctuary province pledge. "That's what this is all about. Those are my values; those are the values of most Canadians, most Ontarians. It's about humanity." 

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath holds a roundtable with young people at the Free Times Cafe on College Street in Toronto on Tuesday. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Horwath defended her proposed corporate tax hike, as well as income tax hikes that would only hit those earning $220,000 or more a year

"We're going to ask the richest Ontarians and the richest corporations to pay a little bit more," she said. "Seems to me that Mr. Ford's plan that he talks about being a plan for the people, is actually a plan for the rich."  

The NDP would form "a government that puts the interests of people at the centre of every decision that we make," Horwath said. 

She denied that an NDP government would make a difficult climate for business. 

"The focus of our platform is to ask the business community to help us help the family budget," she said. She said small businesses would be able to buy into a cheaper employee dental plan than currently available, while cutting down on absenteeism and helping to retain their workers.

She said the corporate tax increase would not be fully phased in until her third year in government and would leave the rate one point lower than it was before the Liberal government began cutting corporate taxes in 2010.  

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne makes an announcement at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving office in Toronto on Tuesday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne's criticism of Horwath is less strident than Ford's, but still pointed.

"There are big differences between our plan and the NDP plan," Wynne said Tuesday, calling the NDP's platform "filled with question marks and corrections."

The NDP platform contains a $1.4-billion error, Horwath admitted last weekend, after the Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely discovered the party counted $700 million it would set aside in reserve as revenue instead of an expense.

The Liberals have also tried to argue that the NDP platform eliminates billions in new spending announced since the 2017 budget.

"There is a consensus building that Doug Ford is not going to be good for the people of Ontario," Wynne said. "So that means that the scrutiny on the other two parties is very, very intense."  

She said people who are choosing between the Liberals and the NDP need to know what each party's plans would mean. 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C. Follow him on Twitter @CBCQueensPark