Despite sitting on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Ontario New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath is the first to point out that her original decision to run for office was inspired by former premier Mike Harris.
It was in the mid-1990s, when Horwath was a community developer and activist in Welland, Ont., that changes to funding for social programs enacted by the Progressive Conservative government sparked her interest in political activism.
“When the Harris government came in they started downloading all sorts of things to municipalities, they started making cuts to social services and part of my work was mobilizing communities, analyzing these changes and coming up with responses,” she recalls.
Horwath earned a reputation as a staunch defender of workers’ rights, prompting her to challenge Liberal incumbent Stan Keyes for the riding of Hamilton West in the 1997 federal election. Although Horwath lost, she posted an impressive second-place finish and won a seat on Hamilton city council later that year.
With ever-crucial election and public service experience behind her, Horwath ran again — this time provincially — and won the riding of Hamilton East in a 2004 by-election. Following electoral changes, which eliminated her seat, Horwath then went on to take the new riding of Hamilton Centre in 2007.
Although the NDP increased its seat count in the election, it failed to make necessary inroads with voters and party stalwarts began calling for a change in direction.
Speculation that NDP leader Howard Hampton would soon step down was rampant and in mid-2008, Horwath began considering a leadership run. From the outset, she understood the daunting task that lay ahead for Hampton’s successor.
“I decided that a lot of my own personal history and work history was about organizing and invigorating people and creating a sense of hope and potential accomplishment,” she recalls, “so that’s how I got my head into the space of thinking perhaps I should do this.” Horwath spent time consulting with family members and party faithful before officially declaring herself a leadership candidate last November. The 46-year-old won the leadership race at a convention in her hometown of Hamilton in March, and has since been adjusting to an increasingly-hectic work schedule.
As she strives to redefine her party’s platform and build confidence amongst voters, setting aside personal and family time is a constant challenge. Her solution thus far: Taking the odd Monday off when she can (weekends are far too busy) and being in the gym or pool every morning by 6 a.m.
“I find that exercise helps clear the head, manage stress and keeps me physically strong on days when the pace is pretty gruelling,” Horwath explains. “Then I try to carve out small bits of time where I can connect with my family. They’re my touchstones and they keep it real for me.”
Check tomorrow’s Workology section for a feature pieces on Ontario minister of health with the Liberal government, David Caplan, and check Metronews.ca for a feature PC MPP Frank Klees, which ran in yesterday’s Metro.