The allegations, as laid out in court documents unsealed last week, say more than enough troubling things about the government Kathleen Wynne is running.
But for Tim Hudak’s purposes, the version of events described by the Ontario Provincial Police – centring on the allegation that, in the midst of a scandal, the chief of staff to former premier Dalton McGuinty brought in his deputy’s boyfriend to wipe computer files surreptitiously – has not quite sufficed. So the Progressive Conservative Leader has spent the past several days publicly exaggerating its contents by repeatedly claiming the affidavit alleges “criminal activity” in the Premier’s office after Ms. Wynne took over.
For his trouble, Mr. Hudak has received a cease-and-desist letter from the Premier’s counsel. But the bigger concern for his Tories should be that he has served up a reminder of why many Ontarians have struggled to warm to him.
In person, when the cameras and tape recorders are off, Mr. Hudak is pleasant, thoughtful and respectful. But he has displayed an unfortunate tendency to rush into overly aggressive attempts to score points against his opponents, giving the very opposite impression of the one he makes in private.
The most obvious example, and most damaging, came at the start of the 2011 election campaign. When the Liberals released a platform that included a new tax credit in return for employing skilled immigrants, Mr. Hudak launched into a week-long crusade against “foreign workers” – a misrepresentation of the policy, but one he thought would play well with his audience. Instead, he wound up turning off potential supporters with perceived opportunism and mean-spiritedness.
His recent attacks on Ms. Wynne are unlikely to cause the same scale of offence, but they speak to a similar impulse to make claims that are not backed up by evidence in the hope nobody will call him on it.
In this case, he seized on one detail in the affidavit – that the special access granted to Peter Faist, the alleged computer-wiper, extended past the change in premiers – as definitive proof that a “criminal act” took place “under the watch of Premier Wynne, not Dalton McGuinty.” Never mind that the police allege the document-deletion happened the week before Ms. Wynne took office; never mind, either, that it was allegedly ordered by a chief of staff to Mr. McGuinty who was not employed for a single day by Ms. Wynne.
Mr. Hudak’s objective here was obvious, and in itself reasonable. He cannot afford to let Ms. Wynne distance herself from the mess her predecessor left, which polls suggest she has done with some success. But there is no shortage of more factual arguments he could use to counter such efforts, among them that Ms. Wynne played senior roles in cabinet and on the Liberals’ campaign team during the costly gas-plant cancellations that triggered the police investigation.
He could also refuse to accept Ms. Wynne’s assurances that she knew nothing about what happened mere days before she took office – skepticism bolstered by the new revelation that Mr. Faist was on contract to the Ontario Liberal Party until just now.
But it is a long way from raising such questions to holding up a police document in which Ms. Wynne scarcely plays a marginal role as evidence that a “criminal act” took place “under her watch,” or claiming that “This is now clearly more Kathleen Wynne’s scandal than Dalton McGuinty’s.”
That last line, in particular, would strain credulity coming from anyone with even passing familiarity with this saga, let alone the leader of the Official Opposition. Mr. Hudak probably won’t pay much price for it, because attention is currently directed quite rightly toward the Liberals. But his habit of overplaying his hand may yet catch up with him again.
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