Subtlety is not really Andrea Horwath’s thing.
To prove that she has not abandoned her party’s roots, the Ontario NDP Leader started this week by posing alongside a statue of a bicycle-riding Jack Layton. Now, in hope of demonstrating that her party has energy and momentum despite the perception it has run a lackluster campaign, she is going with a somewhat manic itinerary for her final day on the hustings.
All three major-party leaders are trying to squeeze in plenty of events before Thursday’s election. The Liberals’ Kathleen Wynne will do a half-dozen stops in Toronto ridings on Wednesday (most of them held by New Democrats). The Progressive Conservatives’ Tim Hudak will do one more of the manufacturer visits that have been a staple of his campaign, before visiting the target ridings of Kitchener-Waterloo and Niagara Falls (three of which are also held by New Democrats) before wrapping up in the safe PC riding of Haldimand Norfolk. But neither of the other two has anything on Ms. Horwath.
Her first event of the day will be in Mississauga-Streetsville, at 8:10 a.m. She’ll go from there to relatively nearby Brampton-Springdale for 9:25, then head from Toronto’s outer suburbs to its inner suburbs for stops in Etobicoke Centre at 10:40 and York South-Weston at 11:45. From there Ms. Horwath will veer across the city for a 1:15 p.m. visit to the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, then head further east for a 2:45 drop-in on Oshawa. After that, she’ll set out on the 401 in hope of getting to the eastern-Ontario city of Belleville in time for a scheduled 4:55 visit, before finally getting to Kingston at 6:45 p.m. for an event alongside federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair – following which Ms. Horwath will presumably collapse, and the reporters following her around will either do likewise or head to the nearest bar.
Beyond the sheer number of events, a couple of oddities stand out here.
Of the eight ridings Ms. Horwath will visit, precisely two of them – York South-Weston and Oshawa – are ones the NDP has even a chance of winning. A couple of others, Brampton-Springdale and Scarborough-Guildwood, are at least in the general vicinity of places where it’s competitive. But the swing out to Belleville and Kingston is peculiar, because even most New Democrats don’t think their party has any hope whatsoever in those places. And this after the NDP campaign has mostly been narrow-targeting the minority of ridings that are in play for it, and directing very few resources toward the rest.
The other, probably more telling quirk is that amid all this bus travel, Ms. Horwath will bypass Toronto’s core – a place where two or three NDP incumbents are in tooth-and-nail battles to keep their seats.
Members of Ms. Horwath’s campaign team are spinning that omission as a sign of their confidence. But considering that reports from the ground contradict that, and that it would hardly be an admission of weakness to do a final-day event in the heart of the province’s biggest city, the better explanation is that her Toronto incumbents aren’t actually that keen to have her visit.
That’s a theory the Liberals (who are the ones trying to take those downtown seats) have been pushing through the campaign, so it should be treated with caution. But it also rings true, since most of the Toronto MPPs haven’t turned up even when Ms. Horwath has done downtown events, and she’s been used more sparingly in their campaign materials than elsewhere in the province. Ms. Horwath’s brand of populism just isn’t perceived to play well with left-of-centre urbanites – at least in the view of caucus members who are known to have had qualms about shifting away from the NDP’s more traditional turf.
None of the leaders’ itineraries, of course, are likely to make or break their party’s fortunes on Thursday. It’s maybe honourable for Ms. Horwath to use some of her remaining time on the campaign trail to reach out to ridings that aren’t likely to imminently reward her for doing so. Practically speaking, it has the advantage of not distracting volunteers in key ridings from knocking on doors. And at this point, the tour is largely about keeping morale up among the grassroots; perhaps New Democrats in parts of the province where their party has barely been campaigning will appreciate getting a visit from their leader.
Other New Democrats, though, may not be overly heartened by the symbolism of her racing around the province to places her candidates can’t win, while staying away from those they can’t afford to lose. And to those on the outside, it looks a bit like a fitting end to an NDP campaign that never quite found its focus.