Andrea Horwath says housing, safe streets, transportation and trust will be priorities
In the immediate aftermath of her loss in the provincial election in June, Andrea Horwath couldn’t find the energy to cook or bake – her usual ways of coping with stress.
« I was like…I have to order food because I don’t cook, » the former Ontario NDP leader said.
Instead, she spent the next week sleeping and reading non-political novels in what she describes as a « sort of complete physical and mental check-up ».
Although his party was granted official opposition status for a second consecutive term, Horwath resigned on election night, saying it was time to « pass the torch », after 13 years at the helm.
« It’s been four very difficult years, » said Horwath, who has led the NDP in four general elections since 2009.
I am very concerned that the idea of using strong mayoral powers (is) to further the agenda of the provincial government.– Andrea Horwath, Mayor-elect of Hamilton
In the weeks that followed, she slowly found her way back to cooking and other things she loves, including spending time in her neighborhood of Hamilton, where she has lived much of her life and served three terms on city council from 1997 before making the leap to provincial politics.
She would hit the local markets or walk to the business district for a cappuccino to melt away.
It was then that she began to ponder whether she might run for mayor and whether she had the energy to support another vigorous political campaign at the municipal level.
« I didn’t want to get into something that I didn’t think I could give my all for, » Horwath said.
As she repositioned herself in the fabric of her hometown, Horwath realized she had knowledge and experience of provincial politics that Hamilton could benefit from.
The move resulted in a narrow victory of around 1,600 votes last week over challenger Keanin Loomis which saw her become Hamilton’s first female mayor – on her 60th birthday.
« It was a tight race and I’m happy with it as there was a lot of discussion, a lot of ideas were put on the table, » she said. « I don’t see this as a personal victory but rather as an opportunity to realize the potential of this city. »
Horwath describes herself as a political collaborator. Heading to the mayor’s seat, she says she wants to take that mindset to the provincial level – where she says she was able to find common ground with the former Liberal government and the current government Progressive Conservative – at the local level.
« We can always find common ground, whether it’s more on a personal level or on a practical level, in terms of achieving that goal of serving people, » she says.
Horwath says housing, street safety and transportation will be priorities
She credits her time as leader of the NDP with allowing her to see beyond Hamilton’s urban core.
“My time as a provincial leader has really exposed me to some of the issues that Hamilton faces in communities that aren’t necessarily often considered part of Hamilton: rural communities, small towns” , she says.
Horwath says Hamiltonians on the campaign trail helped clarify his priorities.
First, she wants to meet the wide range of housing needs in the city, for which she will draw on her experience as a city councilor when she chaired CityHousing Hamilton.
It also plans to address road safety and improve transport networks, and all priorities will be considered through a climate lens.
Horwath may also have to decide whether or not to use the province’s so-called strong mayoral powers if they are extended to Hamilton.
The province recently passed legislation giving the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa veto power over regulations that conflict with provincial priorities, such as housing construction, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, said those powers could be extended to other cities next year.
« I’m going to watch how this shakes up…I never really believed that being a steamroller on other people’s opinions or contributions was the right way to go, » she says.
« I am very concerned that the idea of using strong mayoral powers (is) to advance the agenda of the provincial government. »
In Hamilton, only 35% of eligible voters cast their ballot Monday, and Horwath says it’s important to address residents’ lack of engagement with their city council.
« It says a lot about how engaged people are at the municipal level, and yet the municipal level of government is the one that’s closest to the people and has the most direct impact, » Horwath said.
She says she understands the diversity of the city’s communities and is committed to establishing a diverse table to discuss and make recommendations to make the city more accountable, transparent and engaging.
« For Hamiltonians, we’ve had some pretty high profile challenges or scandals lately and that has, I think, eroded some confidence that needs to be rebuilt. »