Tim Hudak will step down as Leader of the Progressive Conservatives, after a night of deep disappointment that left the Liberals in power and the Tories pondering why Ontario voters rejected their robustly right-wing agenda of small government and tax cuts.
The result of Thursday’s vote was a sharp rebuke to Mr. Hudak and his bold platform, which included slashing 100,000 public-sector jobs, eliminating government regulations on business and reducing corporate taxes to the lowest level on the continent. After losing the 2011 election, in which he ran a soft-focus, centrist campaign, Mr. Hudak shifted right. The party had banked on the belief that its red-meat platform would fire up the base and get out the vote. Now, in the wake of a second straight electoral defeat, Mr. Hudak – who retained his Niagara-area seat – announced he would not stay on as PC Leader.
“I am proud of what our team has accomplished and I am optimistic about our party’s future. But I will not be leading the Ontario PC Party into the next election campaign,” Mr. Hudak told a crowd of supporters, who cried out in disappointment.
In a six-minute speech in Grimsby, flanked by his wife, Deb Hutton, he said he would continue to serve as Leader until the new head takes over and will stay on as an MPP. “We did not achieve the result we wanted,” he acknowledged.
As election day neared, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne amped up her attacks on the PC platform, telling voters Mr. Hudak’s plans would kill jobs, hurt families and drive the province back into recession. She also repeatedly raised the spectre of former PC premier Mike Harris, the former leader who made deep cuts to the public sector in the late 1990s.
Mr. Hudak made headlines early in the campaign with his hard-right platform. Just four days after the writ dropped, he pledged to balance the budget, in part by cutting 100,000 public-sector jobs. His opponents were quick to criticize the plan as being detrimental to Ontario families. Both Ms. Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath focused on the job cuts in their attack ads, in the leaders’ debate and on the hustings.
But Mr. Hudak presented his plan as the medicine the province would need to swallow if it hoped to escape a $12.5-billion deficit.
“We’ve been very honest and very direct that when we’re deep in debt, the only way to get out of that is to reduce spending,” he told a rally on a farm in Jarvis the night before the vote. “Friends, you will be amazed at how much government you’re never going to miss.”
The day he made the announcement to cut public-sector jobs, he conceded some of those cuts would include teachers and would result in a modest increase in class sizes. Later in the campaign, he said the bulk of the cuts – to be made over eight years – would be through attrition and contracting out services, such as GO Transit. He also singled out middle-management bureaucrats in the government, saying he would cut whole agencies such as the College of Trades and the Ontario Power Authority, while also axing paper-pushers across the government.
His message was that the policies would balance the budget, leading to a more stable economy that would aid in private-sector job creation.
His Million Jobs Plan was the centre of his campaign. The plan was expressly designed to create one million jobs in the province over eight years, including cutting corporate taxes to the lowest levels in North America. But shortly after his numbers were released, they came under harsh scrutiny. The estimations included person-years of employment – the number of people who would have work to for one year – as new jobs created, a conflation that multiple economists said was wrong. The NDP and Liberals echoed the criticism.
But the Tories refused to concede the point, saying economists often disagree and the exact number of positions didn’t matter as long as their policies led to job creation.