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Ontario NDP's Horwath campaigns on home turf, vows no tax hike

NDP leader Andrea Horwath and her son Julian Leonetti at the Locke Street festival in Hamilton, Sept. 10

Anna Mehler Paperny/The Globe and Mail

Andrea Horwath made tracks in friendlier turf over the weekend, spending Saturday morning pressing flesh in her home riding before making a stop in Scarborough and taking in a roller derby that made political jabs seem tame in comparison. On Sunday she spent the morning at a 9/11 memorial in downtown Toronto.

For the first time in the campaign, the New Democrat leader was a local celebrity – recognized by just about everyone, called out to from down the block and accosted by street vendors and stroller-pushers, friends and strangers alike as she took in a street festival in her home riding of Hamilton-Centre.

"So?" she asked the reporters trailing her. "How do you like my 'hood?"

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Ms. Horwath's son Julian Leonetti, 18, made his first public appearance of the campaign, joining his mother briefly on Locke Street. (He didn't take questions Saturday, and left the family's wheaten terrier, Waffles, at home.)

Goaded by the other two leaders' blustering promises not to raise taxes, Ms. Horwath pledged the same herself.

"I will not raise taxes," she said, then repeated herself for good measure. "I will not raise taxes. ... We've made a very clear commitment that we are not raising taxes on families, In fact, we're trying to make life more affordable."

She has, however, been the target of criticism for plans to raise the corporate tax rate back to 14 per cent, where it was in June of last year before the HST was implemented and it was lowered to 11.5 per cent.

"I don't believe in giving blank cheques to corporations to then just ship jobs somewhere else," she said. "I want to work with corporations. I want to work with companies. But we're going to do that in a targeted way. ... With jobs credits, investment in capital,

tax credits for training."

And in response to a question from a voter on the street, Ms. Horwath said she'd like to see the province take another shot at proportional representation, which was defeated in a referendum in 2007.

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"If we were to form a government, we would start having that conversation again," she told Gail O'Gorman. "The last conversation, it was scaremongering, and nobody understands it."

Ms. Horwath clarified in a scrum later on that while her party supports proportional representation, initiating another referendum isn't top of mind.

"We very were disappointed with the way things went the last time around," she said. "But. ... it's not top of the agenda."

She spent the afternoon at a rally in a Scarborough gymnasium, where candidates emboldened by the party's federal victory in the area in May vowed to make good on that momentum Oct. 6.

Scarborough-Rouge River, one of the province's most ethnically diverse ridings, is home turf of popular Liberal MPP Bas Balkissoon. But Rathika Sitsabaiesan won it for the NDP in May, becoming Canada's first Tamil MP.

"Ontario NDP will win all six Scarborough ridings," vowed candidate Neethan Shan.

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Clearly feeling the campaign so far has been too tame by half, Ms. Horwath spent the early evening watching young women smash into each other at high speed at a roller derby in Downsview. (Ms. Horwath, who got the derby nickname "Steeltown Scrapper," got to blow the starting whistle but did not participate in the jams herself.)

She didn't stay long, though: She wanted to make it back to Hamilton for an evening art crawl.

"Technically," she confessed, "I'm going into my riding too many times. But this is where I get my passion from."

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