The really big story coming out of Queen’s Park this week is not Don Drummond’s endlessly-hyped report. Sure, there’s lots of shock and awe and slash and burn and user fees that will eat away at the ever eroding well-being of the 99 per cent. Another day, another banker’s demand for austerity for the most vulnerable. It’s just another dog bites man story. Call that news?
Here’s man biting dog: Death and resurrection as public acts. Suicide and revival. The politician as phoenix. And all this on the part of the late Tim Hudak.
To badly oversimplify this tale, one worthy of the Greek classics, you need to know that the late Tim Hudak, the former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, expired last weekend in front of 1,200 hard-rock Conservative activists in Niagara Falls, to be replaced by the present Tim Hudak, also leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. The late Mr. Hudak was himself a rock-hard conservative whose devotion to family values was so transcendent that he aggressively sought his party’s leadership even though it meant stealing precious time away from home.
In sacrificing time with his family to the cause of the family, as in other respects – his dourness, his lack of any kind of lightness of being or humor or sense of irony, the very, very serious way he took himself – the former Mr. Hudak was a dead ringer for America’s Rick Santorum, one of the Republican presidential candidates giving his all to help President Barack Obama get re-elected.
Last year, the late Tim Hudak walked into an election campaign that he couldn’t lose and lost it. It wasn’t easy to do. To achieve this rare feat, he and his campaign invoked fear, divisiveness, wedge issues, chain gangs for prisoners, gay bashing on school curriculum and the transformation of fine upstanding Canadians into foreign workers. He was a one-man Dr. No, the King of the Low Road. The world watched day after stunned day as the late Mr. Hudak methodically snatched defeat from the welcoming jaws of victory. I was on a panel with two distinguished Ontario public figures, Hershel Ezrin and Ernie Eves, and even though Ernie tried his best to be loyal to the Old True Blue, we watched with awe as Mr. Hudak threw it all away. The late Tim Hudak, that is.
Rest in peace, Tim Hudak. He was buried with few regrets right there in Niagara Falls and by no one other than the new Tim Hudak. “You said,” the metamorphosizing Mr. Hudak explained to his anxious audience, “You said, ‘Tim, we know the real you and the real you didn’t come through [in the campaign]’ And you were right.” Then and there the bogus Tim Hudak, the imposter who had replaced the authentic Tim Hudak, who stole his soul like a ghoulish grave robber, the trickster who so convincingly seemed like the real Tim Hudak, Tim Hudak the walking dead was there and then disappeared, buried, put out of his misery, spirited away like a bad seed in the night. Not since Monty Python’s Polly Parrot has any earthly creature been so completely bereft of life.
Aside from him and his clique of advisers, the entire world believed that the former Mr. Hudak’s obvious strategic error was his opportunistic exploitation of every dirty trick in the conservative handbook. With the single exception of Mike Harris, Ontario has never been receptive to extremism of any kind – good old progressive conservative Ontario. But the now-deceased Mr. Hudak and his senior advisers knew the world’s consensus was hooey. It was apparent to them that the problem was that the campaign was not conservative enough. The new Tim understood that very well: “The fact of the matter,” he fessed up courageously to his 1,200 vengeful activists, “is that I, as your leader, did not give sufficient voice to a bold, conservative alternative.” Now we’re talking.
And just to make sure there wasn’t a hint of ambiguity in his meaning, he gave what one news story called “a gushing shout-out to former Conservative premier Mike Harris in the front row.” Mike Harris, Mr. McNasty himself. A real bold conservative, now a very well-off real bold conservative. A man who would’ve won the hearts of last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, where the Republican hopefuls worked indefatigably to demonstrate who most deserved a padded cell. (The winner: Mitt Romney, who reassured the gathering that he was “severely conservative,” apparently a fatal infectious disease.)
It’s true that for years the late Tim Hudak, the bogus Tim Hudak, did a most convincing job of pretending to be Tim Hudak. But the real Tim Hudak has now finally stood up. It’s exactly what Ontario and indeed Canada needed most: Another really bold conservative party. So bold that Tim Two immediately promised he’d “go further than Don Drummond”.
So bold that the deeply conservative Conservative delegates elected as their new president a certain Richard Ciano, whose claim to fame, as every report stressed, is as “one of the key architects of Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s electoral success. Together at last: Mike Harris’s protégé and the Ford Nation. A calamity for Ontario, sure. But could a columnist ask for a greater gift?