08/24/2012 12:32 EDT | Updated 10/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Time For Horwath to Shed The Overalls?


In an era of Ontario politics that has only known male premiers, it seems we will not have a female premier anytime after all.

According to a new poll, the Ontario NDP and its leader, Andrea Horwath, are falling far behind to third place. The party that once had a politically disastrous term at Ontario Premiership is embracing its role of being the "conscious of the house" rather than being a contender for government.

In a just released Nanos Research poll, it seems Ontarians are looking at the two leading parties in the governing of the province. The poll indicates a tight race, should the minority government fail, between Dalton McGuinty's Liberals and Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives.

The Progressive Conservatives stand at 34.7 per cent while the Ontario Liberals are at 34 per cent. Andrea Horwath's NDP are at 22.1 per cent, down from the 28 per cent of support they enjoyed mere months ago.

For Horwath, who has been addressing business friendly crowds in recent weeks, the polls reflect a struggle within the ranks of her members in the direction of the union-inspired party. Should the party maintain its controversial and stubborn perspectives on public issues or should it modernize itself to allow it to contend for the privilege of leading the rich and influential province?

When it comes to leadership qualities, according to the poll, the Ontario NDP is also falling far behind. With trust, competence and vision, Ontarians are looking at either McGuinty or Hudak as an option while totally ignoring the NDP.

For Hudak -- whether he is liked or despised -- he has been strong on policies as well as perspectives and Ontarians are beginning to see him as a potential premier. Fresh from his defeat in the last provincial election, he has been more humble as he tours the province kissing babies, meeting influential ethnic leaders and energizing the youth wing of his party.

With the resignation of former MPP Elizabeth Witman, he has also tried to be inclusive to the once influential Bill-Davis-like progressives of his party.

As Witman resigned from her seat that was narrowly won due to her personality alone, it gave the McGuinty an opening to take his party from minority to majority status creating a historic opportunity for him a year after he formed a minority government.

McGuinty, who has been in his current position for almost a decade, it seems business as usual. He has been reluctant to accept the invitation to run for the leadership of the Federal Liberals and seems content with making provincial historical achievements for his party and himself.

According to the same poll, both Hudak and McGuinty scored well when it came to the management of health care. This is rare for the Conservatives and according to the poll, this is "very unusual and probably reflects dissatisfaction with the way the Liberals have handled health issues."

A win for the Premier in Witman's vacant riding as well as in the Vaughan riding left vacant by one time Ontario Finance Minister Greg Sorbara will give him a rare third majority government earned last time by Leslie Frost almost half a century ago. A loss would give him a warning to set a deadline for his departure.

For Hudak, a win would put any doubts aside and have the party unite behind his leadership. A loss would be fatal and will give the Red Tories a reason to complain and demand for new leadership contests.

This by-election is an important referendum like test for the two men and their respective parties. What will ultimately be at stake would be the premiership and the future direction of Ontario.