Gaffes derail Tim Hudak's campaign

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak visits a food truck festival during a campaign stop in Whitby, Ont. on May 10. (Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has sought to dictate the agenda of the Ontario election and portray himself as a tough, serious leader.

But misadventures with the PC’s photo opportunities keep overshadowing his bold pledges.

The latest misstep happened Sunday, when Toronto Transit Commission enforcement officers broke up the Tory leader’s announcement in a busy subway car. Mr. Hudak, his entourage and a group of reporters were ejected from the train after the PCs failed to clear the event with the transit agency, which bans political campaigning in the system.

Story continues below ad

Mr. Hudak swiftly apologized, but party operatives lashed out at the unionized officers, suggesting they had deliberately ruined the Tory leader’s day as revenge for his anti-union policies.

Such stumbles are particularly strange given how well-organized the PCs claim to be. They have been gunning for an election for the better part of two years, and have spent more time and energy preparing for the vote than their Liberal and NDP adversaries. But on the first days of campaigning last week, Mr. Hudak twice staged news conferences at businesses that received government grants, even though he derides these subsidies as “corporate welfare” and has vowed to abolish them.

These mistakes may seem harmless, but they keep political strategists up at night. A high-profile miscue can inadvertently diminish a politician in the public’s eyes. A news conference delivered in a wetsuit made Stockwell Day appear not-ready-for-prime-time in the 2000 federal election. And it was hard to look at Gilles Duceppe with a straight face after seeing him in a mushroom-shaped hairnet during his 1997 campaign.

Mr. Hudak eventually managed to hold his news conference on a bridge overlooking the Davisville subway yard. He reiterated promises to build a new $7.4-billion downtown relief line and to put the TTC subway under the province’s control.

“The evidence is very clear: The top priority needs to be that east-west express line south of Bloor,” he said. “It supports economic development south of Bloor and it also takes a lot of pressure off the Yonge line.”

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne spent Sunday criticizing New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath for rejecting left-leaning items in her proposed budget, including a provincial pension plan and raises for social service workers. Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, pledged $100-million in one-time funding for child-care centres at an announcement in Hamilton.

Mr. Hudak’s bad day, however, upstaged them both. The plan was for the leader to ride the subway from Wellesley station to Davisville. But TTC security intervened when Mr. Hudak and a group of media boarded. As TV cameras rolled, a tense exchange ensued between two officers, Tory staffers and reporters. One of Mr. Hudak’s handlers tried to negotiate, offering to have media turn off their cameras in exchange for being allowed to proceed, but the officers were unmoved.

As the train idled in the station, riders grew irate.

“Hey! We’ve got to go home, guys,” said one man returning from a Mother’s Day Walk.

“Mr. Hudak, take control!” shouted another.

Mr. Hudak, for his part, smiled awkwardly as the scene unfolded.

Finally, his staff gave up and everyone trooped off. As reporters waited outside, a Toronto police car rolled up. It was unclear whether it had been called for the fracas and, before anyone could find out, a PC campaign bus arrived to whisk everyone to Davisville.

Later, Mr. Hudak was contrite about holding up the subway: “I feel terrible about that. Hopefully we didn’t disrupt any kind of Mother’s Day celebrations.”

His social-media team clearly didn’t feel the same, blaming the officers’ union on Twitter. Mr. Hudak has pledged to lay off public-sector workers and impose a pay freeze if elected, circumventing the collective barganing process.

“CUPE workers stop Tim Hudak photo op on the TTC. They are only interested themselves, not fixing transit for commuters,” the party’s official account tweeted.

A CUPE spokesman said the union had nothing to do with the incident.

TTC spokesman Brad Ross said the agency bans political events behind fare gates, including on subway trains, during an election campaign. Politicians may, however, use the system for photo ops outside an election period, as Ms. Wynne did last month.

Mr. Hudak’s media director, Will Stewart, confirmed that event organizers had not bothered to check with the TTC beforehand. After apologizing for inconveniencing transit riders, he laughed the incident off.

“Thanks for coming out on a Sunday,” he told reporters. “You guys got some good stuff. Unfortunately.”

With a report from the Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

CTVNews Video May. 05 2014, 2:35 PM EDT

Video: Party leaders hit the trail as Ontario election begins first full week

Topics: