TORONTO – Andrea Horwath is running in her second election campaign as Ontario’s NDP leader, a vote she triggered by withdrawing her support for the minority Liberal government that the New Democrats propped up for two-and-a-half years.
“I cannot in good conscience support a government that people don’t trust any more,” Horwath said as she announced she had lost confidence in Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals.
Horwath is not facing the win-or-get-out prospect that Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has to deal with, but she knows she risked a lot by forcing an election that could result in a PC government that is less inclined to make deals with the NDP.
“It is time for the people to make a decision,” she said. “They now have a choice in front of them and I trust that choice.”
While the New Democrats always talk about forming government, Horwath is under pressure to at least increase the NDP’s seat count from the 21 they held at dissolution.
Horwath walked a fine line since the 2011 election, condemning the Liberals as more revelations came out about the $1.1 billion spent to cancel two gas plants and a police investigation into the Ornge air ambulance service, but at the same time voting to keep them in power.
Some New Democrats fear they’ll be blamed for keeping the Liberals in office too long, especially for waiting until after last Thursday’s very NDP-friendly budget, before Horwath finally pulled the trigger on the minority government.
Horwath spoke directly to voters as she said it wasn’t just the budget but also the Liberal scandals that convinced her to take down the government.
“It’s time for change,” she said. “You deserve a better government, a government that values people’s tax dollars, a government that makes life affordable.”
Horwath’s bright, witty style helped the NDP gain seven new seats in the 2011 election and they’ve won several more in byelections since then, but this time she’s not the only woman running as a party leader and she’s no longer a fresh new face on the political scene.
Horwath, 51, was one of four children in her family growing up in Stoney Creek, a small community in the east end of Hamilton. Her father became an auto worker at the Ford plant in Oakville after immigrating from Slovakia and marrying her mother, Diane.
Andrew Horwath liked to talk about labour negotiations and strikes with his children, fostering Andrea’s interest in social justice. Every year the family attended his union picnic and Andrea would read the union newsletters sent to their home.
She worked as a waitress while earning her bachelor’s degree in labour studies at McMaster University and then became a community organizer at a legal clinic and active in the labour movement, helping workers with literacy and English-as-a-second-language. She also helped organize Hamilton’s Days of Action campaign against government cutbacks by the Mike Harris Conservative government.
Horwath placed second to Liberal incumbent Stan Keyes when she attempted a run for Parliament in 1997 in the riding of Hamilton-West, but was elected to city council later that year and was re-elected twice in 2000 and 2003.
During her time on council, Horwath earned a reputation as someone who could hold her own but also had a knack for bringing people together.
She turned down a request from then NDP leader Howard Hampton to be a candidate in 2003 because her father was dying of lung cancer.
Her father died two months before she was first elected provincially in a May, 2004 byelection, taking the Hamilton-east riding from the governing Liberals. She became NDP leader in 2O09, beating three of her caucus colleagues — all men —to replace Hampton.
Horwath separated from her partner of 25 years in 2010, and is the mother of one son, Julian, age 21.
Horwath made few mistakes during her first campaign as NDP leader in 2011, but has angered some hard-core party supporters by reaching out to businesses to make the party appear more mainstream and improve its chances of forming government.
“There’s no plan to reward job creators in this budget or offer relief to small businesses,” she said about the Liberal budget tabled last week.
The Tories and Liberals lashed out at the NDP for not releasing any of the campaign ideas, but Horwath said the party’s platform would be released in plenty of time.
“What I can tell you is New Democrats will be offering a real choice to the people of this province in the election,” she said.
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