Tim Hudak survived a maneuver by dissidents within Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party for a leadership review at the party’s convention over the weekend. The main focus of the convention was the developing of a platform for the next provincial election, widely expected within a few months. But certainly the vote to amend the party’s constitution to allow for the leadership review was a highlight.
Some members of the party have been unhappy with the results of the summer by-elections in which the Conservatives won only one seat out of five – in Etobicoke Lakeshore by former deputy mayor of Toronto, Doug Holyday – that were up for grabs, as well as losing out to the New Democratic Party in London West, which had been considered a safe riding for them.
The Liberals have accumulated a laundry list of missteps and controversial fiscal profligacy since they came to power with Dalton McGuinty as leader. That they are still in power, albeit under new leader Kathleen Wynne and propped up by the NDP, now that they form a minority government, has left the Conservatives frustrated.
But, as far as the electorate is concerned, the Conservatives seem to be more focused on returning to power than playing their part to make governing this province work by engaging with the Liberals as the NDP has been doing. Hudak has been steadfast in his refusal to contribute anything to budget debates, for example. The result is that the main beneficiary of the Conservatives’ intransigence has been the NDP and its leader, Andrea Horwath.
So it is understandable that ambitious Conservative caucus members and their supporters would lay the blame at Hudak’s feet, and even try to get him out. However, after singing mainly to the choir during the convention and shoring up his support, Hudak will remain leader.
That is, pending the results of the next election.
A problem for the Conservatives is that there still remains in the party a hard-right leftover faction from the hated Mike Harris era. Another is that many Ontarians are still hurting from policies of the Harris government or remember clearly the fiscal pain Harris inflicted on so many families.
While Ontarians have had a long history of voting Conservative, both the party and the electorate have changed considerably in recent times. In any case, the Conservatives who governed the province for some 30 odd years until the end of the Bill Davis era, were more to the centre of the political spectrum.
Hudak is perceived by many as a remnant of the Harris era. So while he may be well liked by party members, he is not gaining much traction outside of the party. In fact, among the three main party leaders, he polls last. Clearly, it is not committed Conservatives that the party has to worry about because they alone will not decide the outcome of the next election.
If the Conservatives cannot convince a majority of Ontarians that they have a plan to fix the economy; that they have a plan to create jobs; that they have a plan to grow public transit beyond what is now being talked about; in essence, that they have a plan to make Ontario the envy of the country again, Hudak would not only lose the next election, he will lose his job as the party’s leader.
It is possible that the Liberals may not win the next provincial election, but the Conservatives should not assume that they will be the natural beneficiaries. The NDP’s Andrea Horwath is no Bob Rae and this current NDP is not the old NDP. Horwath has handled herself very well and has shown a level of maturity that bodes well for any leader.
And the NDP does seem to be speaking to the growing cohort of Ontarians who feel disenfranchised.
The next provincial election may not be a fight between the Wynne Liberals and the Hudak Conservatives, but rather between Wynne and Horwath; the Liberals and the NDP – with the Conservatives looking on from the sidelines.