Andrea Horwath’s decision to seek the Hamilton mayoralty marks the end of an era at Queen’s Park.
Horwath will depart provincial politics as the second most successful leader in the history of Ontario’s New Democrats — only former premier Bob Rae, who governed from 1990 to 1995, performed better with voters.
“As I said the day after the election, let there be no doubt that Andrea wakes up every day ready to fight for what she believes in,” Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday of his fierce rival.
Scrappy and tenacious — though never a dynamic or persuasive debater in the legislature — Horwath leaves her party in far better shape than she found it.
She single-handedly returned the NDP to official party status in the legislature, becoming its eighth MPP, when she was elected in a 2004 byelection in the former riding of Hamilton East.
She inherited a caucus of just 10 when she won the New Democratic leadership in 2009.
She led the party to 40 seats in the 2018 Ontario election, its best showing in a generation, ending up as leader of the Official Opposition.
Along the way, Horwath also survived some grave missteps that would have ended the career of a lesser politician.
Her 2014 decision to withdraw the New Democrats’ support from the minority Liberals came the same day as premier Kathleen Wynne’s government tabled perhaps the most left-leaning provincial budget ever, centred around a new Ontario pension plan the Grits modelled on an NDP proposal.
Horwath, whose actions had effectively triggered a snap election, was somehow caught off-guard when Wynne visited the lieutenant-governor the following day to make it official.
As specially wrapped Liberal and Conservative campaign buses hit the road, the sputtering NDP scrambled to get theirs ready.
After Wynne’s Grits won a stunning majority, many thought Horwath’s electoral miscalculation would cost her the leadership.
Four years later, against an unpopular Liberal premier in Wynne and a polarizing rookie Tory leader in Ford, Horwath looked poised to return the New Democrats to government.
Feisty as ever, she battled Ford for the past four years, holding the Tories to account during question period for the COVID-19 pandemic — albeit still forced to rely upon her briefing notes — though her efforts weren’t exactly rewarded by voters on June 2.
Thanks to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system the NDP used to denounce, the party won 31 seats with only 23.7 per cent of the popular vote.
The Liberals got slightly more votes — 23.8 per cent — but garnered just eight seats. (The Tories’ 40.8 per cent translated to 83 seats in the 124-member house, while the Greens took one seat with six per cent of the popular vote.)
Horwath, who watched a slew of NDP-held seats fall to the Conservatives, didn’t hang around to face yet another leadership review next year or a fifth provincewide campaign in 2026.
With New Democrats grousing that on her watch the party had abandoned working-class voters to Ford’s private-sector union-friendly “Big Blue Collar Machine,” she resigned as leader on election night.
“We gave up the working class to get the chattering class,” a senior NDP insider told the Star’s Rob Ferguson after her resignation, referring to the metropolitan middle class of progressives who lost faith in the Liberals. “And we do great with the chattering class.”
Now, the darling of the downtown “chattering class” is the consensus front-runner to become Hamilton’s next mayor.
And, improbable as it seems, Horwath, whose forthcoming resignation of her seat will trigger a byelection in Hamilton Centre within six months, could end up being a beneficiary of Ford’s policy changes.
“If Mr. Ford … decides he’s going to extend the strong mayor situation to all of the municipalities in our province, what I can guarantee you — if I’m given the honour to serve as mayor of our city — (is) that I will always continue to collaborate,” she said Tuesday.
“I’m a collaborator, I pull people in, I listen, I create space for folks to have important conversations about where we were headed — and I will never stop doing that regardless of a strong-mayor power or not.”
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