It would be wrong to say the wheels came off Andrea Horwath’s campaign bus first thing Monday morning. Technically speaking, the NDP’s bus wasn’t even ready to roll until mid-week, so there were no hubcaps falling off.
But the Liberals and Tories gained a head-start, while the New Democrats lost traction (even though the NDP had advance notice of the election, which Horwath had set in motion).
Momentum matters. The rival Liberal and Tory campaigns got their messages out quickly while Horwath was left in a dust cloud of her own making:
From hydro bungles to transit bloopers, her early stumbles and bumbles are causing a bumpy launch. Belatedly, her new buses were rolled out Wednesday, wrapped in bright orange signage that proclaims: “Andrea Horwath — Makes Sense.”
Even when she doesn’t.
In past elections, the third-place New Democrats got a free ride. Perpetually poor, progressive and defensive, they not only got the benefit of the doubt but the benefit of being also-rans.
They weren’t expected to form a government, so why belabour rifts with labour? If the platform didn’t add up, who was counting? If the leader relied excessively on her prepared texts and teleprompters on the stump, did anyone care?
Horwath was a work in progress, even if not all that progressive. To this day, her sunny personality and easy manner serve her well in meet-and-greet events on the campaign trail. But after coasting on her popularity ratings, she may now be a prisoner of those high expectations.
Will the NDP leader disappoint? When it comes to unscripted content or unrehearsed questions, Horwath can be unpredictable. Now, with a wide open campaign and erratic voting patterns, those shortcomings stand out — because the media are no longer counting the NDP out.
That’s why, with fresh eyes, journalists were wide-eyed over her allegation Monday that the Liberal government intended to privatize the TTC. Hadn’t heard that one.
The Liberals pounced, the Tories were perplexed, and the media pummelled her for playing fast and loose with the facts. Yet Horwath refused to back down, citing union talk of private-public partnerships for the future Eglinton LRT — a far cry from any government sell-off of subways or privatization of TTC buses.
Undeterred, she pressed ahead with an astonishing promise to “lower hydro rates in the province.” Not even the anti-hydro Tories claim they can reverse those rapidly rising costs, which is why they promise only to slow the rate of growth.
But Horwath has hatched a plan: the Horwath hydro rebate, an eye-popping scheme to put money in your pocket by handing out a $100 payment to every residential ratepayer in the province.
Whether you view it as a voting bonus or bribe, the “$100 hydro rebate” is a centrepiece of the NDP’s shamelessly populist pitch. Precisely how would she pay for it?
By going after the gravy train. And putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.
Horwath would reconstitute the old Ontario Hydro, which was chopped into pieces by the last Tory government (it begat OPG, Hydro One, etc.). She’d also rein in CEO salaries. And curb exports of surplus hydro at low prices — just like that.
Nothing wrong with trying to save money. Just don’t count your savings before they’re cashed.
In an energy economy that exceeds $15 billion a year, these old NDP ideas are small potatoes that can’t possibly bankroll the new rebates. By overpromising, Horwath sounds like a Wall Street M&A shark (mergers are magic money-savers) or a populist Rob Ford (it’s just the gravy train).
Before her bus pulled out to face the GTA’s endemic traffic congestion, Horwath offered yet more Ford-style populism to build more mass transit: First, subways for Scarborough (hasn’t she chatted with Olivia Chow?). Second, a “modest” increase in corporate taxes that will save “middle class” voters from ever having to pay any taxes or tolls thanks to a new “partnership” between New Democrats and big business.
And with that, Horwath clambered onto her just-unveiled bus, with its irresistibly orange signs and irrefutable slogan:
“Andrea Horwath — Makes Sense.”