Ottawa·Analysis

With NDP momentum building, Horwath looks to conquer a Liberal stronghold in Ottawa

The NDP sees an opporunity to breakthrough in eastern Ontario in the Liberal stronghold of Ottawa Centre.

With new polls looking rosy, the NDP has set its sights on eastern Ontario

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath jokes in Ottawa about the party's attempts to breakthrough in ridings east of Oshawa. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Asked about the NDP's chances in the Ottawa area early Sunday morning, Andrea Horwath joked about the current absence of orange in eastern Ontario.

"Oshawa!" Horwath laughed, when asked about the NDP's most eastern representative. "She's our eastern toehold, Jennifer French of Oshawa. We're going to change that."

It was an optimistic forecast, given the reality that Ottawa hasn't had a New Democrat MPP for 23 years. 

Horwath was in Ottawa ostensibly to announce the NDP's eastern Ontario platform. In truth, it was a repeat of the party's main platform — improve long-term care, end hallway medicine, stabilize gas prices — with nothing particularly eastern Ontario-centric about it.

The only exception was Horwath's commitment to keep the Liberal promise to further extend the LRT network into southern Ottawa, a $50-million pre-election announcement made last month.

"It gives me the opportunity to say this: there are things that the Liberals have done that we're going to stick with because they are things that we agree with," Horwath said. "But there are many, many things we don't agree with that need to be fixed." 

It's not the first time that Horwath has given her Liberal opponents some credit. It's a lesson partly learned, perhaps, from the NDP's rejection of a Liberal budget in 2014 that was widely considered to be NDP-friendly. That move triggered an election that ended with a Liberal majority. 

This time, the NDP seem cognizant of the necessity to attract voters who may identify as Liberal, while continuing to espouse their left-of-centre policies. 

On Sunday, Horwath said that while the Liberals struck a task force to investigate elder abuse in nursing homes, the NDP would widen the scope of the public inquiry. Where the Liberals are promising to cover drug and dental care for some, the NDP are vowing to create universal coverage.

There are some major differences in the platforms, of course. In particular, the NDP plan to pay for their promises by running deficits — like the Liberals and, presumably, the PCs who have yet to release a costed platform — and increasing taxes on corporations and on individuals making more than $220,000.

Their platform isn't free of issues, however, including the fact they've accounted for $700 million in reserves as revenue instead of an expense.

But the NDP's message that they offer everything the Liberals do without the baggage could resonate in a place like Ottawa, where the majority of ridings have been Liberal for years, and some for decades. 

Ottawa Centre in play

The riding of Ottawa Centre, which includes the capital's downtown and Parliament Hill, is the NDP's best chance to pick up a seat. Candidate Joel Harden is working hard against the well-known Liberal incumbent, Yasir Naqvi, who was serving as the attorney general before the campaign began.

Provincially, the riding has been NDP for 20 of its 50-year existence and was represented federally by the NDP for 11 years before the Liberal sweep of Ontario in 2015. 

It was no surprise that Joel Harden, the NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre, was chosen to introduce Andrea Horwath on Sunday. The downtown riding is in play for the NDP. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

So it's no surprise that Horwath's event was held in Ottawa Centre at the Abbotsford Seniors Centre, or that Harden was the one to introduce her.

Ottawa South NDP candidate Eleanor Fast also spoke at the campaign stop, and is being touted by party insiders as a possible breakthrough candidate. The riding, which was home to former premier Dalton McGuinty and currently represented by John Fraser, has never had an New Democrat MPP.

In any other election, the prospect of Ottawa South turning orange would be far-fetched at best. But the most recent polling data suggest this election is far from over

NDP on the upswing

Whatever the case, many voters remain undecided. They want change, but feel torn about voting for the options available to them. It's what the polls are reporting, and it's what all the parties' volunteers say they hear on the phones and on the doorstep.

It appears to be working to the NDP's advantage.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Tories enjoyed a lead in the polls that many observers considered unbridgeable for the other parties. With 18 days to go until voting day, the PCs are still ahead, but the NDP are gaining.

The CBC's own poll tracker shows the PCs about eight points ahead of the NDP. But PC supports keep slipping, point by point, and New Democrats seems to be making up the ground. 

That upswing in support could put ridings like Ottawa Centre in play. If it continues, expect to see Horwath back in downtown Ottawa before the campaign is over. 

About the Author

Joanne Chianello

City affairs analyst

Joanne Chianello is an award-winning journalist and CBC Ottawa's city affairs analyst. You can email her at joanne.chianello@cbc.ca or tweet her at @jchianello.