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Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is cranking up his attacks on Premier Kathleen Wynne in anticipation of a possible spring vote. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is cranking up his attacks on Premier Kathleen Wynne in anticipation of a possible spring vote. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Hudak test-drives campaign messaging at Toronto fundraiser Add to ...

Ontario is dangerously adrift in rough economic waters and needs a new captain to seize the wheel, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told a major fundraiser in anticipation of a possible spring election.

“The [Premier Kathleen] Wynne view is that the role of the leader is to watch the ship of state drift with the current,” he told the well-heeled crowd of about 1,400 at a Toronto convention centre Thursday. “My view could not be more different. We will hoist Ontario’s sail, I will get out and row if I have to, but we will reach our destination of jobs and hope and opportunity.”

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In a speech that mixed meaty policy with pithy zingers, Mr. Hudak struck a more relaxed posture than his tightly-scripted image.

He rattled off a list of pledges – abolishing the College of Trades, reinstating instruction in basic math algorithms in the province’s grade-school curriculum, and instituting a public-sector wage freeze to balance the budget – then busted out the one-liners.

First he slammed “windmill owners and their fancy lobbyists” for running roughshod over rural Ontario.

Then he took aim at the province’s current embrace of “discovery math,” a system that teaches children to solve problems by breaking them down rather than by using rote algorithms.

“When you wait for kids to ‘discover’ multiplication and division, employers discover that graduates can’t do basic math,” he said.

At the end of the speech, Mr. Hudak waded into the audience for a question-and-answer session, cracking jokes and going off-script. At one point, he told a story about a family in his riding raising an autistic child.

His well-received performance was more dynamic than the same event a year earlier, when Mr. Hudak confined his speech to a recitation of campaign pledges. This time, his writing was more colourful, without jettisoning the serious policy.

The address was a preview of the campaign he will run if he gets his wish for a spring election.

“Change is coming, help is coming, jobs are coming,” he said to cheers.

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