View From The Inside:
Horwath's Decision To Force
Election Could Define Her
By Paul Ferreira
It's hard to believe two years have passed since the last provincial general election.
Few would have predicted then that Dalton McGuinty's - and now Kathleen Wynne's - "major minority" would have such a prolonged run.
Let's be honest. NDP leader Andrea Horwath deserves the credit for this. It was she who negotiated concessions with the Liberals in the last two budgets to allow them to pass.
In 2012, she extracted a surtax on income over $500,000.
Earlier this year, she demanded, and got, a $295 million program to reward companies that hire Ontario youth - a group that are currently suffering with a 16% unemployment rate.
However, Horwath's toughest test -- and biggest decision -- lies ahead.
Between now and next spring, she will have to decide whether she wants to go for a budget hat trick, or finally force an election.
It'll be a decision that could define her.
When she became NDP Leader in 2009, the consensus of party members was that Horwath had demonstrated the greatest capacity to grow the party among the four candidates vying to replace her long-standing predecessor, Howard Hampton.
For the most part, Ms. Horwath has lived up to expectations. She performed capably in the 2011 election, growing the party's caucus to a respectable 17 seats. She has picked up three more through by-elections since then. And, with the three parties all in play as potential victors in the next election, she consistently polls as the most popular provincial party leader. The trends are encouraging.
But an ill-advised decision on the timing of the next election could change all that.
On the one hand, Horwath has been adamant about wanting to make minority government work for Ontarians. As noted, she's delivered on that over the past two years.
On the other, she runs the risk of becoming too closely aligned with a Liberal government that has suffered from scandal after scandal if she continues to prop them up.
A recent poll indicates Ontarians do finally seem to be warming up to the idea of an election well before the mandated October 2015 date.
You can bet Horwath will be paying close attention to public sentiment, as we get closer to the 2014 budget.
She knows her newly gained seats in places that don't usually vote NDP - like Brampton, Kitchener, London and Essex - are vulnerable to a Conservative surge. The longer she supports the Liberal government, the louder Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will amplify his message that a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Liberals.
She also knows the last time an NDP leader propped up a minority Liberal government at Queen's Park, the NDP got trounced in the subsequent election - although it did become the official opposition.
That's a repetition of history Horwath is hoping to avoid. Instead, she's hoping to make history -- as the first elected female Premier. (Kathleen Wynne inherited the post from Dalton McGuinty.)
The decision Horwath makes early next year will be pivotal in deciding her fate.
I'm betting the next round of budget negotiations won't go very far. Horwath will realize it will be her best shot to finally return the NDP to power after almost two decades in the third-party wilderness.
Its likely Ontarians can expect to be back on the election trail come April or May.