HAMILTON -- Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP didn’t have the night they wanted, but the leader who has now led the party through three provincial races is vowing to stay on to fight Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative majority government that Ontarians elected.

Though, the night wasn’t without gains. The NDP will form Official Opposition with more seats than they had before the election, and more than have been elected in Ontario in a generation, Horwath pointed out. Supporters relished each successful candidate, both incumbent and newcomers wiping out longtime MPPs.

“I told the premier-designate that New Democrats will work each and every day for the change that families need to make lives better for all of us,” she told the crowd of emotional supporters gathered at the Hamilton Convention Centre.

“The people of Ontario made their decision tonight. I respect that decision and I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the official opposition and hold this government to account because lord knows, they’re going to need to be held to account,” Horwath said.

Chants of “NDP” punctuated her speech, and as she made it off stage and out of the room, supporters crowded in for hugs and photos, while reporters asked: What next?

Because the result won’t be bringing the brand of change New Democrats campaigned on, would she stay on as leader?

“Absolutely,” Horwath said. “The people of Ontario gave me a new opportunity to make sure their voices, their dreams, their hopes are being represented at Queen’s Park and I’m looking forward to doing that.”

For many in the room, the results were anti-climactic after a 28-day campaign. It took less than 28 minutes for PC Leader Doug Ford to dash their hopes for power.

“[It was] very disheartening. I truly believe that we had a good shot at this, I did,” said Patti Encinas, a single mom and NDP member since the federal leadership race.

“I’m disgusted at the voters of this province, because they voted for a buck-a-beer, and they’re going to throw our education and our healthcare and our children’s futures down the drain,” she said.

“I know what it’s like to live on minimum wage, I know what it’s like to be on welfare,” she said, wiping away tears. “I know how hard it can be.”

This was Horwath’s third election campaign as NDP leader after taking the helm at the 2009 party convention. Going into this race the NDP had 18 MPPs. They’ve now doubled that, with 39 seats. The Ontarians elected 76 PC MPPs, 7 Liberals, and for the first time, one Green MPP. One riding had yet to report its results as of midnight.

In all three elections as party leader, Horwath has grown the Ontario NDP’s seat count. In 2014 the party won 21 seats at Queen’s Park with 23.7 per cent of the vote. In the 2011 provincial election, they won 17 seats with 22.7 per cent of the vote. A decade ago after the 2007 election, the NDP had 10 seats in the legislature.

The self-proclaimed “tough cookie” or “steeltown scrapper,” Horwath was re-elected in her riding of Hamilton Centre, maintaining her title as an MPP since 2004. 

Final campaign stop

Horwath started her election day visiting campaign volunteers in Toronto and Hamilton -- the city where it all began politically for her -- before retreating to be with family and friends ahead of tonight’s results.

At her last event, Horwath thanked volunteers who had been out campaigning for her while she was touring the province.

“We have run a great campaign and we’ve show the people of Ontario that we can have hope for the future,” she said to the two-dozen or so supporters gathered in the small campaign office with election signs and posters tracking outreach metrics covering the walls.

Speaking with reporters outside the campaign office, Horwath said being in Hamilton to find out whether she would become premier or the leader of the official opposition was a no-brainer.

“When my team asked me early, early on in the campaign where we would be celebrating our victory party I said, ‘Hometown, it’s got to be the hometown,’” she said.

When the writ was issued on May 9, the numbers for the NDP were far from indicating a chance at government, but as Horwath and her campaign gained momentum, the race tightened.

With Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne declaring defeat the weekend before Ontarians went to the polls, the campaign messaging from the NDP became a declaration that a vote for the Liberals is a vote for the Ford team -- and the only way to avoid that is to vote for the NDP.

Getting in one last partisan callout before polls closed, Horwath said: “It’s either going to be hope for the future or it’s going to be more difficulties and challenges, more corruption and more privatization and more cuts to public services with Doug Ford. I think we’re going to take it over the finish line with a new government starting tomorrow.”

Horwath’s bus tour across the province saw her hosting rallies, petting dogs, and eating ice cream, and making many trips to current Liberal strongholds.

The campaign saw mudslinging from all sides, with the leaders having to come to the defence of candidates for various issues. For Horwath this included repeatedly backing candidates that the PCs tried to brand as “radical” for past social media posts or activist participation.

Candidates and the campaign

Provincial watchers have said that if Horwath could convince enough voters that she can provide a change in leadership from longtime Liberal leader Wynne without turning the province in a different direction, she could unite the left and win. That’d didn’t pan out, and the Liberals managed to hold on to a few more seats than estimated.

Her roster of candidates included more women than men, including the first-ever openly trans candidate to run for MPP in Ontario, Lyra Evans. She wasn’t successful in staving off the incumbent Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers.

Of the three main parties, Horwath's campaign got heavy support from her federal friends. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was previously the deputy Ontario NDP leader, campaigned in several Ontario ridings, including alongside his brother Gurratan Singh, who was elected in Brampton.

Speaking about his brother’s election, and the party’s showing overall, Singh said the NDP in Ontario will have “a fierce opposition to hold this government to account.”