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Hudak readies to battle unions after by-election loss

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.


Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is moving further to the political right by declaring war on the province's public-sector union bosses – a move that appeals to his party's base but runs the risk of alienating potential supporters.

Mr. Hudak is accusing union leaders of buying votes in a key by-election and is vowing to redouble his efforts to roll out a Conservative agenda. He plans to release a white paper on Monday on reforming the health-care system and shrinking the size of the bureaucracy.

"We are the only party with the guts to say 'no' to the union bosses," Mr. Hudak said at a news conference on Friday, a day after the New Democratic Party's historic victory in Kitchener-Waterloo, a riding that had been a Tory stronghold for more than two decades.

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The province's public-sector unions were already in Mr. Hudak's crosshairs over his push for an across-the-board legislated wage freeze. He escalated his attack on Friday by warning that it is "dangerous and ominous" for the province to see the kind of power displayed by labour leaders, who succeeded in getting many disgruntled teachers to defect to the NDP from the Liberals during the by-election in the Southern Ontario riding.

Robin Sears, a principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group and a former NDP national director, said Mr. Hudak is caught in a political dilemma. While union bashing appeals to the core of the Tory party, Mr. Sears said in an interview, Mr. Hudak is also presenting a vision that has little appeal for other conservatives.

"What he needs to say to survive as leader is going to hurt him as a prospective premier," he said.

The results in the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election raise more questions about Mr. Hudak's leadership. He was already facing some dissent within the party after he went into the October provincial election with a double-digit lead in the polls, only to lose to the governing Liberals.

Former Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory, now a Toronto radio host, also faced questions about his stewardship after the party's electoral defeat in 2007. His advice to Mr. Hudak? Hire food tasters.

"When things are not going well," Mr. Tory said on Newstalk 1010 on Friday, "there are people in your party who get impatient and who decide that they better take matters into their own hands. All of a sudden, rumours and stories and cabals and conspiracies start emerging, so I'd say a food taster would be in order."

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