A week into the Ontario election campaign, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s strategy is in plain view: constantly roll out policy in a bid to dictate the agenda.
Each proposal is attached to the estimated number of jobs it will create – they will eventually add up to a million – in hopes the Tory leader can dominate the discussion on the issue that matters most and that he is betting will be the ballot question on June 12.
Above all, Mr. Hudak is trying to cast himself as serious and principled, unafraid to rock the boat with controversial promises such as laying off 100,000 public sector workers, including teachers.
“I’m giving [people] the hard talk and the plain truth. If this were a popularity contest, you’d promise everything to all people under the sun,” he said on Monday at Stanpac, a food packaging factory in his home riding in verdant Niagara. “I’m actually proposing some tough choices. But I think we owe it to Ontarians to be honest about the mess that we’re in.”
Monday’s theme was energy, with Mr. Hudak outlining plans to get rid of subsidies to wind and solar companies, restructure the province’s hydro agencies and make nuclear power the backbone of the grid. He maintained this plan would lead to smaller electricity rate increases and prompt businesses to create 40,000 new jobs.
Stanpac vice-president Murray Bain warned Ontario’s electricity rates cannot keep climbing at the current rate, or the company will be more inclined to put its jobs elsewhere.
“If these costs go any higher, we may have to make some tough decisions about where we manufacture our products,” he said.
So far, Mr. Hudak’s plan has had mixed results. Some days, he has re-announced long-standing Tory policy and gained little traction. On others – including Sunday – less-than-polished photo opportunities have derailed his message. But at times, he has dominated the airwaves and put himself at the centre of the campaign.
On Monday, for instance, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne spent a large chunk of her news conference attacking Mr. Hudak’s pledge to shrink the public sector. At a union training centre in Vaughan, she called the idea “reckless” and said it would “sacrifice our fragile economic recovery” by pulling money out of the economy.
Mr. Hudak’s policy heft has also helped him strike a contrast with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who is pushing a relatively light, populist agenda. On Monday in Thunder Bay, she made a simple pocketbook pledge to take the HST off electricity, which she estimated would save the average family $120 annually.
It is certain Mr. Hudak will see his strategy through. Not only his he locked into the “Million Jobs” theme, but evidence shows this playbook can work.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a similar strategy in his 2005-06 campaign, during which he rolled out policy early on, creating a sense of momentum that carried him to election day. The Liberals were largely reduced to responding to his agenda.
Some elements of Mr. Hudak’s plan have been questioned – it is not clear how he would reduce hydro rates while refurbishing nuclear reactors at Darlington. And economists contend a provincial government alone does not have enough control of the economy to guarantee a target such as a million jobs over eight years.
But Mr. Hudak has perfected the art of utter confidence.
“Each and every year, we’ll be creating more jobs in the private sector than we lose in government,” he told reporters at Stanpac. “Any jobs we lose by paring down the hydro bureaucracy, we’re going to create at least 10 more in the province.”
With a report from the Canadian Press.
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