The platform that Tim Hudak released in full this week, with its sweeping public-service layoffs, huge corporate tax cuts and outright cancellation of various government programs, could upset enough people to cost the Progressive Conservative Leader his shot at power.
But even if he is out of a job the morning after Ontario’s June 12 election, as he almost certainly will be if his party does not win it, Mr. Hudak will probably feel proud of the campaign he ran.
Or at least, he would feel prouder than he did the morning after the province’s last election, in 2011. And his desire to be able to hold his head higher goes a long way toward explaining why he is running on one of the most unabashedly right-wing agendas the leader of a major party in this country has put forward.
For two-and-a-half years, Mr. Hudak has been saddled with a reputation as an opportunist or, less kindly, a loser. He is the guy who could not defeat Dalton McGuinty when the former premier was out of gas, and some of Mr. Hudak’s own party members have not let him forget it.
A common view of that last election is Mr. Hudak blew it by devoting the first week to railing against “foreign workers” – an ugly attack on a minor Liberal promise to give employers tax credits for hiring skilled immigrants. He seems to know that was an error, which explains why his team vowed before the current campaign that he would not go chasing any “shiny objects.”
But that was not the main lesson Mr. Hudak drew. Both publicly and privately, he insisted his biggest mistake was being too meek about expressing his real view of how the province should change.
Mr. Hudak tried to use “foreign workers” and a handful of populist policies such as bringing back chain gangs to create wedge issues, because on most major policy issues he was not offering much different from the status quo; despite a budget deficit even bigger than the current one, he mostly endorsed the governing Liberals’ spending priorities. That did not work with voters, who seemed to see through him, nor did it apparently make him feel good about himself. Having come of age as a young MPP in Mike Harris’s government, Mr. Hudak wanted to be seen not as the smirking frat boy he was painted as, but as a principled and leading-edge conservative.
He has not been subtle since then about trying to prove what he really is. After a lengthy flirtation with “right-to-work” legislation, which would have led to a full-scale war with organized labour, he has if anything settled on more controversial stuff.
His pledge to cut 100,000 jobs from the broader public sector would be more revolutionary than anything Mr. Harris did. His vow not to increase spending at a rate faster than GDP growth, even during a recession, is at odds with the policies of virtually every Western government, including the one run by his federal cousins in Ottawa. His pitch to cut already low corporate taxes by fully a third would leave businesses in Ontario paying much less than anywhere else in North America.
The adoption of such policies is partly a calculated political move. The Tories believe their key to victory is motivating likely supporters to come out and vote, and the policies Mr. Hudak is running on should be better mobilization tools than the previous batch. And while persuading swing voters is less central to the strategy, Mr. Hudak may also lure some of those if he looks like the most decisive of the party leaders.
That Mr. Hudak would only run this way if he thought it could be politically advantageous, though, does not mean that it is not personal. In a second campaign that is a direct reaction to his first one, he intends to win or lose his way.