Every day during the 2014 Ontario election I checked the news first thing in the morning. And almost without a miss, there was some new whacky turn of events. From the get-go this election was a head-scratcher! Why on earth, most of us wondered, did the NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, choose to defeat a very progressive budget–one that most NDPers would have embraced? Why, we all mused, would she risk giving up her status of holding the balance of power in parliament? Strategically, it seems to make no sense, and most commentators have surmised that Horwath experienced some fit of hubris that led her to think she could somehow defeat this government and come out on top as some sort of populist. But that’s not what I witnessed. On the face of it, this episode seems a mystery. I certainly did not see a woman possessed with a hunger for power. Indeed, at every step she seemed bewildered and unsure of where exactly to pitch her party’s position. Occasionally, Horwath seemed self-possessed and eloquent, but mostly she appeared listless and to be making it up as she went along.
After the debate, I suggested in one of my posts that Horwath looked like she was dressed to attend a funeral. Horwath seems to favour dark colours in stark contrast to Kathleen Wynne who embraces bright colours and bold prints. If you see Wynne on the campaign trail or during a news story, I can guarantee you someone will ask me, Did you see what Wynne was wearing?! She’s by no means a fashionista, but she is a woman who loves colour and loves to reflect her personality through her clothing (although, I think her stylists failed her as well on debate night). I suspect that since Horwath isn’t a size 2 she’s fallen into the unfortunate group of women who believe they have to wear dark, solid colours in order to appear “slimmer”–or, indeed, she may not wish for people to be commenting on her clothing at all. Of course all of this is fair enough, but when politics is almost as much about personality and likability as they are about policy, a little bit of colour would have helped her an awful lot here. To me her choice of sombre attire almost everywhere she went was a sad foreshadowing of the election results ahead. She looked and sounded lacklustre, and it was uncomfortable to watch. But I still wonder whether more was going on than meets the eye.
There is no doubt that the choice to bring down government at this time was a curious one, and I actually did not expect it to come about over that particular budget. But if we view the situation more closely, it becomes more evident why Horwath felt she needed to make the move she did. I think we owe this past election to the strategists on Wynne’s Liberal team. If we think about it, Wynne had a very flimsy mandate to continues as premier. The party is wracked with those gas plant scandals; they were a minority government; and typically when a new leader takes over a party they seek a fresh mandate through an election. It’s obvious that Wynne could not be seen to be the one to trigger such an event–she carried too much baggage from the McGuinty government. But she really did seriously need to have a proper mandate, either by being whole-heartedly backed by the NDP or by winning a fresh election. Horwath’s back was against the wall, and she was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. How long could she get away with supporting a Liberal government and still be taken seriously? But how could she realistically vote down such a progressive budget? I have no idea what the inside scoop on this one is, but my guess is that her strategy team assumed that between Hudak’s unpopularity and Wynne’s scandal-ridden party, another minority government would be inevitable, and Horwath could reasonably still continue to hold the balance of power and still save face about propping up an almost-invalid Liberal government. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m not sure that she had a lot of choice in the matter.