Andrea Horwath formally kicked off her first campaign as Leader of the Ontario New Democrats on the lawn outside Queen's Park Wednesday morning, entreating restive voters to look to her third-place party as a genuine alternative.
"It doesn't have to be this way," she said. "You have a choice: You could stick with the status quo that's just not working, or you could choose change. But not just any kind of change: Change that puts you first."
She repeated vows to create "good, sustainable jobs" and to provide relief when it comes to HST and gas prices – to help families "being squeezed right out of the middle class." And while she panned the provincial Liberals' plans to offer $10,000 in tax credits to employers who hire highly skilled immigrants, she hinted that the NDP is planning to roll out similar policies itself in the next few days.
"I will work with companies. I will work with businesses to help you through tax relief if you are hiring new people, if you are investing in plant machinery and equipment, if you are training your staff and making sure your workers are keeping up to speed with changes in the workplace and technology."
Ms. Horwath reminded people of her roots in Hamilton, which is no stranger to economic shocks and the attendant political backlash.
"I come out of a community that knows what happens when a tired government ignores the genuine despair facing many people – when jobs disappear, pensions are at risk and the cost of living soars," she said. "And all across Ontario, people tell me the same stories."
She also sought to distance herself from Ontario's last NDP premier, Bob Rae, whose legacy has dogged the provincial New Democrats for more than a decade.
"I'm going to follow in the footsteps of premiers like Gary Doer, Darrell Dexter and the founder of my party, Tommy Douglas, who understood that you have to have a balanced budget f you're going to provide a good economy and opportunity for people in your province."
She also denied she's starting to resemble Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak – both have been shooting for a populist centre in their campaigns so far.
As while she derided the "squabbling" that's characterized the provincial campaign in the form of attack ads from both left and right, the rookie leader intimated she won't be a pushover.
"Folks are sometimes surprised to find I'm a little bit of a fighter. They shouldn't be: I'm from Hamilton. And I'm also a New Democrat," she said. "I have been looking forward to it for quite some time. My son, maybe not so much. But he wishes me well."