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It has been nine days and counting since Tim Hudak met with Queen's Park reporters. Normally accessible, the leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives is keeping his head down. And really, it's hard to blame him.
The first questions that Mr. Hudak would be asked, and probably the only answers that would get any attention, would be about the unbelievable mess that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in. Particularly problematic for him would be the topic of whether he's still "excited" by the prospect of the Mayor's brother Doug, a city councillor facing no shortage of controversy himself, running as a PC candidate.
Mr. Hudak has the luxury of keeping his distance – leaving such questions to the likes of veteran MPP Jim Wilson, who on Thursday pronounced that he'd never met Doug Ford and thus has no opinion of him – because he didn't get the spring election he desperately wanted only a few weeks ago. So it's no wonder some provincial Tories are practically giddy when encountered in the halls of Queen's Park: They know they dodged a bullet.
Actually, they probably dodged two of them. Because of what is happening not just at City Hall but also in Ottawa, this would be just about the worst possible time for Mr. Hudak to make his case to voters.
Parties measure their day-to-day success during campaigns, to a significant extent, on whether their preferred issues are leading news coverage and capturing the most public attention. And in a campaign that would by now be in full swing if the third-party New Democrats had succumbed to the Tories' pressure and voted against the governing Liberals' budget, the Fords alone would have made it difficult for Mr. Hudak even to talk about the issues he wanted to talk about.
Doug Ford, based on vows he made earlier in the spring, would have stood as a "star" PC candidate in Etobicoke. But after the May 25th report in The Globe and Mail about his involvement in a hash-dealing enterprise in the 1980s, not to mention his aggressive defences of Rob Ford during a scandal that has by this point become an international sensation, one of the election's hottest topics would have been whether he would step aside.
Doug Ford has denied that he ever dealt drugs.
Notoriously defiant, Doug Ford almost certainly would not have stepped aside of his own volition. So unless and until Mr. Hudak fired him – which would have caused major problems of its own with a certain group of Ford-friendly voters that the Tories need – it would have accounted for most of the party's media attention.
The impact of the ongoing Senate scandal involving Mike Duffy and (to a lesser extent) Pamela Wallin, which is at least temporarily doing major damage to the federal Conservatives' brand, would have been more subtle. But in its own right, it would also have been highly problematic.
In Ontario, more than in most provinces, the lines between federal and provincial politics tend to blur. That contributes in some measure to the oft-cited (if sometimes overly mythologized) tendency to elect different parties at the two levels. If nothing else, in this case, it would have contributed to the "these guys are all the same" sentiment that can make it difficult for opposition parties to profit off of government scandals. It would have been that much harder for the Tories to exploit the ongoing controversy around the cancellation of gas-fired power plants, which would have been part of the stated reason for forcing the election in the first place.
The good news for Mr. Hudak is that one or both of these messes should be less of a factor by the time Ontarians do go to the polls. His party officials have taken to referring to Mr. Ford's candidacy as "hypothetical," in the obvious hope that he'll lose interest in running after only saying he would do so this spring. And while it's possible the federal Conservatives will be mired in some other scandal, it's reasonable to hope that they'll be at less of a low point than they are currently.
It's no wonder Mr. Hudak was pushing hard to go to voters now. He had put a lot of eggs in that basket, and having to wait will pose some problems in terms of maintaining a strong organization and finding new ways to talk about policies he has already put in the window. But at this point, he should be thanking his good fortune for a blessing in disguise.
Meanwhile, Premier Kathleen Wynne – who until recently seemed to have done her government a great service by navigating it past the spring – might wonder whether she'll ever be able to catch her likeliest replacement at a weaker moment.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story said Tim Hudak has not met with reporters in nine days. Mr. Hudak has not met with members of the Queen's Park press gallery in that time, but has met with reporters outside the legislature. This version has been corrected.
Adam Radwanski is a columnist covering Ontario politics.