TORONTO - NDP leadership hopeful Andrea Horwath vowed to fight proposals to abandon manufacturing jobs and subsidize low-wage jobs as she picked up a key labour endorsement Monday.

"Ontario can survive and thrive by creating a high-road manufacturing strategy that works with government to look to the future and builds on the strength of our workers," Horwath said.

"Ontario's prosperity has come from good manufacturing jobs and it represents our best chance to continue to provide good jobs in this province."

Horwath rejected a recent proposal, being eyed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, to move away from traditional manufacturing jobs and toward more "creative" work as well as subsidizing low-wage jobs.

She was also critical of a call by some of the other NDP leadership candidates to cut corporate taxes.

"Another round of tax cuts will only undermine our ability to meet our challenges as a province," she said.

"Someone is going to have to pay, and we know from history who that is: working people."

Horwath's comments were welcomed by Ontario Federation of Labour president Wayne Samuelson, who along with NDP veteran Peter Kormos is endorsing Horwath.

Wayne Fraser of the United Steelworkers also announced his backing Monday.

"She provides a new kind of leadership, she provides an energy which this party needs, and frankly, I think she provides an ability to create a debate about how we deal with this crisis that affects so many of us," Samuelson said.

Her platform may not stray too far from traditional NDP values, but Horwath said she sees no need for "wholesale change" in the party's cornerstones.

"There's a lot of crowding already in the centre and in the right, and I don't think that's where New Democrats need to go," she said.

The issues, Horwath said, were overshadowed in the 2007 election by Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory's plan for faith-based school funding.

"I wouldn't say that our message wasn't resonating with voters," she said. "I don't think our message got out to voters."

The leadership is also being sought by Peter Tabuns, Michael Prue and Gilles Bisson, and observers are unsure which way the vote will go.

"It's very hard to tell because all the members are going to vote, and so it's really hard to get a good sense of what (each) member is going to do," said Henry Jacek, a politics professor at McMaster University.

An endorsement like Fraser's is important for Horwath, Jacek said, "but she still needs to get the steelworkers to sign that ballot."

Tabuns, a former Greenpeace director, has focused on what he calls a new energy economy and is pushing for job creation through a bigger renewable energy industry in the province.

The Canadian Office and Professional Employees and the Amalgamated Transit Union have thrown their support behind Prue, who has touted his experience as a former mayor of East York as proof he can handle the economic crisis.

Prue has found himself in hot water in the past by suggesting it's time the NDP reviewed its policy of supporting public funding for Catholic schools.

Bisson, a longtime supporter of the North, has the backing of seven northern Ontario members of Parliament, including veteran Charlie Angus.

His home riding of Timmins-James Bay is now the largest riding association in Ontario, with 1,398 members, compared to 265 members last July.

The party will select its new leader in Hamilton in March, when Howard Hampton steps down after more than a decade at the helm.

The NDP hasn't been the ruling party in Ontario since former premier Bob Rae took the reins in 1990.