Andrea Horwath Wins Ontario NDP Leadership Vote By 77%
By Susanna Kelley
Andrea Horwath has survived a vote on her leadership of the Ontario New Democratic Party, garnering the support of 77% of delegates to the party's annual convention in Toronto Saturday.
Ms. Horwath won as 811 delegates voted against calling an election for a new leader, and 244 voted in favour.
"I first want to say, delegates, how humbled I am by your vote of confidence and support tonight," the elated leader said as she took to the stage after the vote.
She told them she is "proud as hell" to take on the mission of fighting the next election with them.
"I look forward to all of the hard work ahead as we go into the future together, united and stronger for the next four years."
Ms. Horwath told reporters the result frees the party to concentrate on important issues and the next election.
"We are not going back to the Legislature preoccupied with party business" and divisions like the Progressive Conservatives, she said after the victory was announced.
The fact she spent the last five months reaching out to activists angry over the party's performance in the last election helped convince a significant portion of the more than 1,000 delegates to vote for her continued leadership, she said.
But Ms. Horwath still came into the convention facing real anger on the floor over the fact she pulled the plug on the Liberal budget in the first place, even though it contained a promise to create a made-in-Ontario public pension plan.
They were particularly upset that Ms. Horwath let their balance of power leverage slip away, especially over budget many considered progressive.
But Ms. Horwath mentioned the budget only in denouncing the political right in the province:
While 77 per cent is thought to be quite a respectable figure for Ms. Horwath to have achieved, it is clear the result was not a ringing endorsement from a totally united party.
A number of delegates said privately they voted for her continued leadership because they feel it is the wrong time to change leaders.
They felt activists needed to expend their energy on the upcoming federal campaign in 2015 rather than on a divisive leadership fight provincially, and the Ontario party faces a multi-million dollar debt from the last provincial campaign.
Others clearly viewed this as a "wait and see" win for Ms. Horwath. Leadership reviews are mandatory at each biennial NDP convention, and some said they will be watching to see if she is more consultative and will be changing her focus from pocketbook issues to more traditional NDP policies from now on. They said that if she doesn't, they will have another chance to vote on her leadership in 2016, a full two years before the next election.
However, as in all leadership reviews, people vote the way they do for a variety of reasons, and as one of her top aides said about the 77% result, no matter what those reasons might be, "I'll take it."
In her speech to the delegates before the crucial vote, Ms. Horwath said she was there to re-commit to traditional NDP values.
"We are here together to re-affirm a cause ... the great project of social democracy," Ms. Horwath said.
"Our cause is to build a society that is more - much more - socially and economically equal," she said.
She vowed she had learned her lessons from the last campaign:
During the campaign, New Democrats watched some of their supporters swing Liberal in an attempt to stop PC leader Tim Hudak's far-right policies, particularly in Toronto.
Some activists complained Ms. Horwath's campaign did little to stop that, being outflanked on the left by Premier Kathleen Wynne.
To address that concern for the future, Ms. Horwath pledged her support for a variety of traditional New Democratic policies: a cleaner environment, daycare, public education, unions, the disabled, fighting sexual harassment and violence against women as well as improvement in First Nations living conditions.
She also re-iterated her call for a "living" minimum wage. Some in the party have felt her support for that has not been vociferous enough.
Ms. Horwath then played the ultimate NDP card in her attempt to hammer home the point that she's learned her lessons in the last election - she invoked the name of CCF/NDP founder Tommy Douglas, always a hit at NDP conventions.
"Our cause is public, universal health care the way Tommy Douglas wanted it. Updated to fit today's society, just like Tommy would have wanted it," she said.
"That means addressing the mental health crisis in this country with something better than more prisons, more tasers and more tragedies on our streets ... and reaching out to people who are poor and excluded, people who are addicted and isolated, people who are de-institutionalized and homeless - and making sure these fellow citizens and neighbours of ours have what they need to become well."
In addition, she offered an olive branch to Ontario teachers, whose unions have run strategic voting campaigns in the last number of elections, often aimed at electing the Liberals, who have rewarded them with rich contracts.
Teachers "deserve a great deal more respect in our society - our province's dedicated public school teachers," Ms. Horwath said.
Ms. Horwath had also tried to dissipate the frustration within the party before the convention by cleaning house in her own office, firing top aides and bringing in more experienced advisors.