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Ontario NDP's shift to middle could leave Liberals feeling squeezed

Andrea Horwath may be the leader of Ontario's traditional party of labour, but she is steering it toward the middle ground, the turf currently occupied by the Liberals.

This shift could leave Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty feeling squeezed from both the left and the right, because Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has already essentially adopted all of his main rival's health-care and education policies.

"Our platform has ideas borrowed from all kinds of different places. …," Ms. Horwath told The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Thursday. "We have to be practical and borrow from ideas in other places, regardless of what the ideology is."

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Ms. Horwath, who took the helm in 2009, is essentially refashioning the NDP in her own image, just as its fortunes are on the rise. Her platform contains wallet relief in a bid to reach beyond the party's base, but very little on core principles such as the environment and social justice. With one week before voting day, the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are running neck and neck with the NDP a competitive third.

Ms. Horwath is a threat to Mr. McGuinty because her party could siphon off Liberal votes – something Mr. Hudak hopes will happen. She is well-aware that she could play a pivotal role if Ontario elects its first minority government since the mid-1980s, but she said it is premature to talk about forming a coalition.

"I'm not in a position to pick a premier yet," Ms. Horwath said. "Maybe I'm still in a position to be a premier, and that's how I'm going to fight the last week of the campaign."

Ms. Horwath has had to deal with the legacy of two former NDP leaders on the campaign trail. She has engaged in a delicate balance of using the goodwill over Jack Layton's death to fuel her party's momentum and trying to get out from under the federal NDP leader's shadow.

And then there are the reminders of an unhappy chapter in her party's history: Bob Rae's term as premier in the early 1990s. He is now interim leader of the federal Liberals. People need to get over the Rae era and stop harkening back to it, Ms. Horwath said. As for her friend Mr. Layton, "he's a big part of our DNA."

Asked if she was dealing with two ghosts, the woman who is not known for mincing words joked, "I guess Bob's not really a ghost if he's still alive." Perhaps, she added, he's a "skeleton."

For his part, Mr. McGuinty is campaigning as the only leader with the vision to manage the economy in difficult times. That vision includes making Ontario a leader in North America in the fledgling clean-energy sector, using that to spur job creation much the way the auto industry did in previous generations.

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"I see an opening," said Mr. McGuinty, who met with The Globe's editorial board on Wednesday. "I see an opportunity and I want to drive hard. It's a place for us to make our mark."

As his opponents position themselves for a final sprint to election day, Mr. Hudak appears more energized on the campaign trail since his performance during this week's televised leaders debate.

Mr. Hudak's campaign took on a positive tone Thursday as he slammed a slew of last-minute announcements by the Liberals.

He also took aim at the NDP, saying, "they're going to raise taxes just like the Liberals, but at least they have the courtesy to say so."

He said the Liberal announcements – including stopping work at a gas-fired power plant in Mississauga and moving up the start date for a home renovation tax credit for seniors by 15 months – were signs of panic. At this stage in the campaign, he said, it's too late to be introducing or enhancing platform planks.

"We're seven days out and Dalton McGuinty has some brand-new, last-minute, panicked jobs plan," he said. "Give me a break – you can't make this stuff up on the fly. We have a plan, and we're sticking to it."

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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