Is Tim Hudak Canada's new Conservative revolutionary?
He's running on cutting corporate taxes and slashing 100,000 jobs from the public service, and in his second term, chopping income taxes by 10 per cent. His rhetoric is an echo of Mike Harris's Common Sense Revolution and builds from the idea that government is bad for the economy.
If he wins the Ontario election, he'll take the nexus of Canadian conservatism back to Queen's Park. And Stephen Harper's government, eight years in power, is likely to hear a sucking sound as young conservative staffers and a lot of the energy of Canada's right heads down the road to Toronto.
It's still a big if. Mr. Hudak shifted his campaign to the right, risking a backlash by promising to cut 15 per cent of the public service, when it seemed obvious that occupying the centre was the easy way to beat the incumbent Liberals. Especially since the premier, Kathleen Wynne has veered left.
Polls suggest most voters feel a desire to boot the Liberals from office, so it seemed that Mr. Hudak could win with the tried-and-true tactic of being inoffensive and asserting that it's time for a change.
Instead, Mr. Hudak is promoting a full-bore, get-the-government-out-of-the-way message that's rarely embraced by governments in Canada.
He calls equalization "welfare," and uses the same word for corporate grants. He suggests that government tends to kill the economy. As he discussed his "million jobs plan" in Ottawa on Tuesday, he said 500,000 would be created naturally as long as Queen's Park didn't do anything, or in his words, "if we locked the door and said no legislators can come in and do any more damage to the economy.' Those phrases aren't the stuff of Canada's Progressive Conservative mainstream. They're the activist battle cry of the right that made Harris Tories, Mr. Hudak among them, political innovators in Canada.
Two decades ago, the Harris Tories promised to a right-wing shakeup. And when their zeal faded, and their fortunes waned, charter members like the late Jim Flaherty and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird migrated to join Mr. Harper's political-culture shift in Ottawa.
They rolled back funding for daycares, cut the GST, turned Canada's military image from peacekeeper to war-fighter, toughened crime sentences, and trimmed the civil service a touch. But Mr. Harper has been an incrementalist, symbolic battles like reforming the Senate have been abandoned, and his governing agenda is mostly light. They're managing.
Elsewhere, Progressive Conservatives in Alberta and Atlantic Canada are centrist, and Brad Walls Saskatchewan Party is populist. Mr. Hudak is promising a small-government shake-up.
He has wrapped it up in a jobs agenda, promising to create a million jobs over eight years through policies like cutting corporate taxes and eliminating subsidies on wind and solar power.
That allows him to keep talking, relentlessly about creating jobs – the conversation that voters, according to polls, want to hear.
The specifics of the plan – a preposterous set of precise predictions of the number of jobs that will be created over eight years by each policy measure – make you wonder how Mr. Hudak, who has a master's degree in economics, can keep a straight face.
It claims 40,384 jobs (not 40,380) will be created from cutting wind and solar energy subsidies. Another 96,000 are supposedly to be created by reducing traffic gridlock in the GTA, an analysis the Conservatives have made, they say, based on several other studies.
They claim 170,240 jobs will be created by changing labour rules so that companies can hire one trades apprentice for every journeyman, and Mr. Hudak claims that – Hey Presto – that will happen overnight, apparently without worrying about companies labour needs. "I can do it in a second and create 200,000 jobs," he told reporters.
Plenty of conservative economists will argue that cutting corporate taxes will create jobs, but serious ones won't promise it will create 119,808, as Mr. Hudak does.
The Million Jobs Plan, such as it is, is just a vessel. The numbers are a bit of salesmanship, to transform his smaller-government, lower-tax agenda into a jobs plan.
But no one can claim he's hiding the agenda. He's telling voters it will take tough medicine, but that's what you will get with the Hudak Tories. And if he wins the conservative revolutionaries will be back in Ontario.