TORONTO—The leader of Ontario's New Democrats announced a pre-election swing through the province Friday in an effort to divert attention away from the Progressive Conservatives, who have dominated headlines with a fierce leadership race she likened to a train wreck.
Andrea Horwath, who has led the NDP since 2009 but failed to move it beyond third-party status during her tenure, said she understood why all eyes were on the Tories, who have been scrambling ever since former leader Patrick Brown resigned last month amid sexual misconduct allegations.
“People paying attention to that doesn't necessarily mean they like what they see,” Horwath said.
“Let's face it, you get drawn to things like a train wreck, it doesn't necessarily mean you want to be in it.”
Horwath said her two-week tour will focus on listening to Ontarians ahead of the June election.
“We're going to continue to let people know there is at least one political party that cares about, and is interested in, making sure that the needs of Ontarians are top priorities,” she said.
The swing through several communities means the 55-year-old Hamilton politician will be absent from the legislature just a week after it resumed its spring session.
Horwath said the party will focus on issues that are important to Ontarians, including expanding pharmacare coverage, buying back privatized shares of Hydro One, and tackling hospital overcrowding by investing more in the health-care system.
While Horwath's personal approval ratings consistently rank above Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and Brown, the NDP remain a third choice in various polls.
But Horwath said her party was the only one presenting a fresh, stable way forward.
“It's really apparent that the Conservative Party can't even get its own house in order, never mind purport to be in shape to run the province,” she charged.
“People are disappointed with Kathleen Wynne, there's no doubt about it," Horwath added. ”People are saying it's time for change.
“What New Democrats are offering is change for the better.”
Horwath said she plans to stick with a message of hope in the run-up to the spring vote.
“I'm the scrappy third-party leader and I've been around for a while," she noted. ”I do my best and I'm going to keep doing my best.
“People deserve so much better than this.”
One political observer said the tour—and its timing—will be good for Horwarth.
With the Tories embroiled in scandal, and a sentencing hearing today for a former top Liberal political aide found guilty of destroying documents related to a government decision to scrap two gas plants, the NDP can use integrity as a wedge issue, said Cristine de Clercy, an associate political science professor at Western University.
“Andrea Horwath can go out to the ridings and legitimately present herself as . . . someone who isn't afraid to show up and talk about her party and doesn't have to dodge painful questions about integrity,” she said.
“That's one way she could build a bridge to prudent, centrist voters.”
De Clercy said the tour also is a better use of Horwath's time than trying to break through a news cycle recently dominated by the Tories and their troubles.
“Clearly, there isn't much the New Democrats can do to push the PCs out of the newspaper headlines and they probably won't want to, given that most of the headlines are obviously not very flattering,” she noted.
“Retail politics, for [Horwath], I always thought was an under-emphasized aspect of her leadership,” De Clercy added.
“For her, in particular, there is merit in getting out and meeting people.”