Anna Mehler Paperny – Global News
Andrea Horwath is having a good night.
The NDP leader is seen as the biggest winner coming out of Thursday’s byelection quintet after her party won two Liberal ridings handily – Percy Hatfield is the new MPP for Windsor-Tecumseh, former finance minister Dwight Duncan’s riding; and Peggy Sattler beat former teachers union head Ken Coran to win London West, former redoubt of Liberal Chris Bentley.
Horwath notes she’s doubled the size of her caucus in her time as leader – not that size matters, or anything.
But she knows her work’s cut out for her: It’s still a minority government, beset by questions over spending and transparency. She has more awkward decisions ahead akin to her support of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s budget earlier this year, which drew heat from all ends of the political spectrum.
And while she says her backing of the Liberal budget’s justified by the concessions she won, she’s the first to admit that move elicited a “mixed response” with voters.
She has a long to-do list, dominated by promises she wants the Liberals to follow through on. But she’ll probably also be pressured for policy specifics of her own – on ways to fund transit, for example, as she’s expressed distaste for new consumer taxes and fees as a way to raise money.
“We’re going to stay on top of the Liberals,” she says. “And we’re going to take it one day at a time.”
Horwath spoke to Global News on the phone from the NDP’s victory party in Windsor Thursday evening:
So, I mean, what do you think?
Well I’m actually very pleased with the results tonight. I’m here in Windsor with our candidate Percy Hatfield, who is now the MPP for Windsor-Tecumseh. He is really an excellent representative.
What’s happened tonight is we’ve seen the people of Ontario send a pretty clear message to the Liberals that they’re tired of being taken for granted and they wanna see the kind of leadership that actually delivers results for them. And that’s why they, in a couple of these ridings, at least, have backed the NDP.
Were you surprised? I know a lot of people expected [Hatfield] to win, but Peggy Satler won by a comfortable margin. Were you surprised by that?
Well, you know what? We were feeling the momentum in Peggy’s campaign. I mean, I was there yesterday, I was there today, we were feeling that momentum continuing to grow. And although reports were saying it was neck-and-neck or that she was trailing, we weren’t feeling that on the ground. We were feeling things were going her way.
And so tonight I was over the moon. I was thrilled. I mean I had to make a choice to be in one riding or another, so I did end up coming all the way down to Windsor after leaving Peggy this afternoon.
But I was extremely thrilled she’s a very competent woman, she’s a woman of integrity, she’s a proven leader. … So the people of London West really actually understood they were electing someday who would bring a strong voice for them and who would bring their concerns to Queen’s Park. And I’m thrilled to have her as part of the team.
So what mandate does this give your caucus right now?
Well, you know, it’s interesting: Our caucus has actually doubled since I’ve become leader now. It’s been a couple of years, we didn’t get the doubling in the first general election, but we’ve been adding steadily ever since.
And what it does for us is it tells us that people actually pay attention when you are listening to them and then you’re acting on what you hear and you’re bringing practical, thoughtful, pragmatic things forward that will make their lives better, that will improve things for them, they actually reward that with confidence. And that’s what I’m feeling tonight.
So what are your personal policy priorities, then, once the legislature sits again?
Well, it is a minority parliament. And I’ve said all along that I’m taking this one day at a time. We know the auditor general is going to be bringing his report back on the gas plants very shortly, likely early September. We also know the committees looking into the gas plants are starting up again this coming week, in fact, on Tuesday.
We know that there’s more information and more answers to get for the people of Ontario. So I’m sure we’re going to be busy with that. But we’re also going to make sure that all the promises the Liberals have made, both in the budget and through this campaign process are actually fulfilled so we’re going to hold their feet to the fire we’re going to hold them accountable for the promises that they’ve made. …
I think, overall, the financial accountability office is something we really want to see up and running. And I was very clear with Ms. Wynne that the people of this province deserve transparency and accountability and so this office needs to be set up in September. We have some timelines around that. Because we want to stop the kind of scandals the Liberals have been embroiled in from happening in the first place. And we can do that because of what we were able to achieve with that office being committed to in the budget.
And so our dance card is full, if you will. We have a lot of work ahead, but we’re not afraid of hard work. We’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to it.
So Wynne’s lost three seats tonight. What kind of message do you think she’s taking with her?
Well, I mean, I certainly hope she’s taking a message that the arrogance of the Liberals is not something the people of Ontario will abide, that they’re unhappy with the scandals and the disrespect the Liberals have shown for the public purse and they’re unhappy with the self-interest the Liberals continue to demonstrate. They’re more concerned about covering up the latest scandal than they are about getting things done for Ontarians. And I’m hopeful that’s the message that the Liberals got tonight.
Do you think tonight vindicates your decision to support the Liberal government through the budget?
Well, you know, it wasn’t an easy decision. Certainly, on the campaign trail, I have to be honest with myself and with the people of the province it was a mixed response and people in a number of these ridings supported us because we were able to get results.
It doesn’t mean they were necessarily all that thrilled that the Liberals are still standing but they know it is inevitable that a general election is going to happen and they actually understood that we did what we thought was the responsible thing, the prudent thing, which was actually to get some things done for people in the interim.
And that’s what we were able to do and I think overall people understood that and I’m pleased with the vote of confidence, if you will, that we received tonight.
How soon do you think there’ll be another general election?
Well, it’s interesting. There’s lots of speculation. And some people are saying, ‘Well, it’s not going to be until the next budget,’ but I would not reach that conclusion. We’re going to take it a day at a time. We’re back in the legislature in September in terms of Question Period but committee’s that’s dealing with the gas plants is meeting on Tuesday, in fact, right after the long weekend.
So we are going to stay on top of the Liberals. And we are going to take into consideration all the information coming out of that process as well as the results of this byelection. And we’re going to take it one day at a time.
Do you get some down time after this?
(laughs) I certainly hope so.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.