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Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak in pictured in London, Ont., site of his party’s convention, on Sept. 22, 2013. (Geoff Robins for The Globe and Mail)
Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak in pictured in London, Ont., site of his party’s convention, on Sept. 22, 2013. (Geoff Robins for The Globe and Mail)

Ontario PCs aim to back Liberal bills in bid to set agenda Add to ...

The Progressive Conservatives have prepared a proposal for Ontario’s Liberal government that would see at least eight new laws passed this fall – a bid to seize control of the province’s policy agenda in the buildup to an election expected next year.

The Tories will offer to help fast-track several of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s bills, plus at least three of their own, party sources told The Globe and Mail Sunday. The plan would ensure Liberal legislation – on tanning beds, local food, co-op housing and mobile-phone contracts – would pass the assembly by the end of the year. PC bills that would be pushed through include a measure that would free construction company EllisDon from having to use unionized labour and a law to put carbon-monoxide detectors in all homes.

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One PC source said the aim is to clear away non-contentious legislation that is before the assembly and push Ms. Wynne to table measures that deal with the economy. The Tories plan to fight the next election on economic matters, and hope to draw a contrast with the Liberals by forcing the legislature to put the economy front and centre.

Ms. Wynne previously asked PC Leader Tim Hudak for help pushing through her legislative agenda, but talks ended in a stalemate when he asked her to back his cost-cutting plans. This time around, Mr. Hudak is offering a straight swap, with more innocuous legislation to pass on both sides. The move comes as Mr. Hudak emerges from a party conference in which he beat back a challenge to his leadership.

In a sit-down interview with The Globe and Mail Sunday, a day after a handful of members failed to force a leadership review, he argued flatly that the “question is closed” on his command of the party.

“It’s pretty clear. There are a few disgruntled party members that had the opportunity to have their say as part of our grassroots party process,” he said. “They had their say and the question is closed. There was an overwhelming vote of support for the leader, which was buoying to me, invigorating to caucus and, I think, energizing to the entire party.”

A group of local Tories – unhappy after the NDP trounced the party in a by-election in London West, the sort of middle-class suburban riding the Tories will need to win government – tried to amend the party constitution to allow for a leadership review. But by the time the motion came up for a vote Saturday afternoon, nearly all the delegates present had resolved to stand behind Mr. Hudak.

Party insiders, including those with reservations about Mr. Hudak’s leadership, indicated they had decided to close ranks behind him in the interest of unity. With an election so close, they reasoned, this was not the time to divide the party. All but a handful of delegates voted against the leadership review.

He pledged to push on with the hefty policy agenda he has spent the past two years building. Only major measures to slash the size of government, he argued, will be enough to solve the province’s economic problems.

“There is an incredibly vacuous policy agenda at Queen’s Park,” he said. “The big issues in Ontario are not whether teenagers can access tanning beds or if we have fresh local produce. There are much bigger issues to discuss.”

And when the election comes, he vowed, the party will not fail to capture the seat that helped spark the internal battle this weekend.

“I’m confident we’ll win that riding back in a general election, when people will look at the big picture and who has solutions. I think they saw the NDP as a protest vote without a consequence. I’m confident that they won’t make that choice in a general election.”

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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