Maybe Tim Hudak should dust off his résumé because the results of the August 1 provincial by-elections did not signal voter confidence in his vision for Ontarians. The leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives may want to take credit for the win by Doug Holyday, formerly Toronto’s deputy mayor and now the Member of Provincial Parliament-elect for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. But, in reality, Holyday’s win would have had much to do with his prior job as mayor of Etobicoke and his strong name recognition.
That Liberals are now carrying the burden of political sin would have something to do with it as well, but Holyday had an edge going in. His being a Conservative was only incidental to his victory.
Hudak would be unwise to exaggerate Holiday’s win as a real shift toward the PCs. It should also be noted that the race between Holyday and Liberal candidate, Peter Milczyn, was a close one.
It must be worrying to rank and file conservatives that the Hudak-led PCs could not muster any other victories.
All five seats going into the by-election were vacated by high profile Liberals, chief among them, former premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty. The big winners were the New Democratic Party which took two seats from the Liberals, Percy Hatfield in Windsor-Tecumseh, which was vacated by former finance minister Dwight Duncan, and Peggy Sattler in London South. John Fraser held on to McGuinty’s riding of Ottawa South for the Liberals and Mitzie Hunter kept the Scarborough-Guildwood riding formerly held by Margarett Best, who had been the Minister of Consumer Affairs under McGuinty, in the Liberal fold.
However, it is clear that the new Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne has a lot of work ahead if it is to restore the trust so badly damaged by fiscal waste under the previous leadership.
There is a significant mass of non-aligned voters who would like to park their votes someplace other than with the Liberals given public dissatisfaction with them. Yet, there isn’t a strong sense that under Hudak’s leadership the PCs can push the Liberals to the other side of the isle in the Legislature.
Whatever leadership qualities Hudak may or may not possess, his problem has also been the kind of policies he presents as his or his party’s vision for this province. A couple of years ago, for instance, the PC leader laid out a plan for prison inmates to be put into mandatory ‘work gangs’ to clear streets and highways. Hudak has also put forward doing away with Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal and touted more corporate and personal tax cuts as the answer to Ontario’s economic woes.
We have to wonder whether the PCs under Hudak would take us back to the polarized era of the ‘Commonsense Revolution’ of the former Mike Harris government. An opposition leader would have to be critically lacking to not have some momentum behind him with the party in power so mired in controversy as are the Liberals who paid out a reported half billion dollars in penalties once construction of power plants in Oakville and Mississauga were halted. The cancellations were fulfillment of a McGuinty campaign promise as he fought to get a majority in the 2011 elections. This was just one of a slew of Liberal transgressions of fiscal waste and disagreeable policy decisions.
Conservatives have to ask what they need to do to put themselves in the driver’s seat come the fall of 2015 or, the Liberals being in a minority position, perhaps before because these by-elections did not show that the Conservatives are the default alternative. It could be that next time out the NDP may shock us again – as happened in 1990 – by coming out ahead.
Should that happen, conservatives would lay the blame squarely on Hudak.