Andrea Horwath is making her first southwestern trek of the campaign on Wednesday. It’s safe to assume she won’t be a stranger in that part of Ontario the next five weeks.
Her New Democrats would love to catch fire across the province, or at least in enough places to have a chance at government. But this region is where any significant gains will start, and it alone could provide enough new seats for the third party to feel decent about itself after election day.
Heading into the 2011 election, the NDP didn’t hold one of the southwest’s 21 ridings. But it won two seats there in that campaign, Essex and London-Fanshawe. More impressively, it’s won all three by-elections held there in the past couple of years, laying claim to Kitchener-Waterloo, London West and Windsor-Tecumseh.
The Kitchener-Waterloo win could be chalked up to some unique factors, including a very strong candidate in former school-board chair Catherine Fife. But otherwise, a combination of Ms. Horwath’s blue-collar appeal and the perception that New Democrats are far from the status quo seems to have helped their party in what has become Ontario’s rust belt.
Now, more southwestern seats are available. It would take some work by the the New Democrats not to win Windsor West, the riding currently represented by rookie Liberal MPP and cabinet minister Teresa Piruzza. They are also in a three-way race for London North Centre, currently held by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews. They may even have an outside shot at Kitchener Centre, which is being vacated by Government House Leader John Milloy as he exits provincial politics.
With the Liberals all but out of the picture through most of the rest of the region, there are also a few seats the NDP could conceivably steal away from Progressive Conservative incumbents, including Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent-Essex. In theory it should also have shots at Cambridge and Kitchener-Conestoga, though oddly the NDP has yet to hold nomination meetings in either.
In any event, other than one or two seats in the far north, this area contains the next layer of ridings ready to swing to the NDP. Ms. Horwath can’t afford not to win them.