HAMILTON—Four campaigns were enough.
A tearful, but happy Andrea Horwath announced Thursday night she’s resigning as leader of the Ontario NDP.
“It is time for me to step aside,” said Horwath after leading the party to official opposition status for the second election in a row. Horwath is resigning as soon as the NDP picks an interim leader, which party sources say could come within a matter of days.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Horwath would remain as MPP for Hamilton Centre. She romped to an easy victory in her riding, beating PC candidate Sarah Bokhari and the Liberals’ Ekaterini Dimakis.
Horwath has been rumoured to be considering a run for Mayor of Hamilton in this fall’s municipal election. Incumbent mayor Fred Eisenberger hasn’t yet said whether he’ll be running. Former mayor and ex-Liberal MP Bob Bratina has said he’ll run, but hasn’t registered yet. So far, only two candidates have registered to run for mayor, including Keanin Loomis, ex-CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
NDP sources also said Marit Stiles, re-elected as MPP for Davenport, could run for the party leadership. Joel Harden, re-elected in Ottawa Centre, is also rumoured to be considering a run. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment.
As the results rolled in from across the province, there were some loud groans, some boos and a handful of muttered expletives at the Hamilton Convention Centre, as NDP partisans saw that Doug Ford had raced to another commanding majority.
But the frustration turned to happiness, and even some flashes of excitement as people saw that Horwath had led the NDP to official opposition status again.
As the crowd cheered, party officials, strategists and pollsters praised Horwath for the showing.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Andrea for where she’s led this party, and I hope she’s proud of herself too,” said NDP party president Janelle Brady. “We’re the official opposition again, we ran the biggest campaign in party history, we raised $5.9 million small donations. And we will continue to hold Doug Ford to account.”
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In 2018, which was indisputably a change election as voters swept the Liberals out of office, Horwath was seen by many observers as a serious contender to become premier. The NDP campaign was energized at the prospect of being elected to government again for the first time since Bob Rae in 1990.
She was running against Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, whose polling numbers were dreadful even as the campaign got underway.
And she was also running against a PC party which was in seeming disarray, after then-leader Patrick Brown suddenly resigned less than five months before the election, amidst allegations of sexual misconduct. Brown was replaced — after a leadership race — by Ford, who wasn’t completely trusted even by members of his own party.
But in the end, the NDP wound up with 40 seats in 2018. While the seat total — and official opposition status — was the best result for the party since Rae’s victory in 1990, it was still a bitter disappointment for many party members. Midway through the campaign, she had been neck and neck in polling with Ford, but her numbers started to slide after a lacklustre debate performance.
Party pollster Leslie Turnbull said the fact the NDP didn’t ever gain enough traction with voters this time to topple Ford wasn’t Horwath’s fault.
“Andrea in our polling did better than the party in every single poll we did,” said Turnbull, adding that incumbency was an even more powerful force in Ford’s favour than it usually would have been, thanks to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every election that’s happened during COVID, the incumbents have been re-elected. And that’s across Canada, regardless of political stripe. People are saying there’s been enough change, enough stress, enough anxiety,” said Turnbull. “People who support Ford think he’s done a pretty good job with the pandemic.”
Party strategist Tom Parkin agreed that the pandemic played a role, especially before the campaign.
“Part of the difficulty we had has been the pandemic to some extent, because there was a lot of time when Andrea couldn’t really completely be the opposition, had to be supportive of Doug and trying to pull together, and that set some difficulties up for later,” said Parkin, who praised Horwath for leaving the party in good shape.
“I think that people understand how Andrea’s taken this party from being something that was 10 seats to something now that’s got a substantial base of support. And really vying for government, last time and again this time,” said Parkin. “In 2010, 2014, I don’t think anyone took the idea of Andrea Horwath or Howard Hampton running to be premier seriously. Last time, absolutely. This time, absolutely. And I think we’re at a base level now.”
Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer
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