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The Globe and Mail

In Ontario politics, it's a family affair

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak, centre, arrives for a photo-op with wife Deb Hutton, left, and their three-year-old daughter Miller in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 6, 2011.

Darren Calabrese/darren calabrese The Globe and Mail

If Tim Hudak ever gets lonely on the campaign trail, all he needs to do is step outside his bus and take a look at the larger-than-life family portrait plastered on the side.

While many party leaders feature themselves prominently on their buses, few elect to plaster their loved ones' faces beside their own.

The portrait is an attempt to remind voters everywhere he goes that he's more than a politician they barely know – he's also a family man who shares their values and has a stake in the health care and education systems he's promised to protect.

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"I will be out walking my dog and someone will smile at me," the Progressive Conservative Leader said on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Toronto. "But, then I realize they just really like the dog."

It's not just Mr. Hudak. A day into the campaign, the province's three mainstream political leaders are giving their spouses, parents and children a place on the podium in hopes of appealing to middle-class voters.

Mr. Hudak clearly adores his daughter, Miller, who has been with him, along with her mom, Debbie Hutton, over the past two days, and having her along occasionally could ease the grind of a month-long campaign and help him win over parents who might see themselves in his hands-on approach to parenting. Whenever his daughter is with him, she's rarely out of arm's reach. He often pauses mid-speech to acknowledge her if she is vying for his attention, and talks about her whenever he can.

When asked why poll respondents could not describe him in one word, he suggested "proud dad." It may not have been his best mathematical moment, but the message is clear – his family is running the campaign with him.

That wasn't always the plan – when Mr. Hudak won the leadership in 2009, he expressed concern that his wife's background as a senior adviser to the Mike Harris government would make her an easy target for opponents.

Not to be outdone in the family values department, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty trotted out his wife at a rally on Wednesday in Mississauga, where he officially kicked off his campaign. But Terri McGuinty wasn't standing silently at her husband's side. She went up on stage before her husband and spoke for six minutes about the man she first met in high school and married 31 years ago.

It was the first time that many in the Liberal Party could recall Mrs. McGuinty, a kindergarten teacher, speaking at length during a political campaign. The often aloof Liberal leader's wife was there to help burnish his credentials as just a regular family guy. The couple have a daughter and three sons.

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"I'm often asked, 'What's he really like,' " Mrs. McGuinty said, admitting that she was a little nervous in front of such a large crowd. "Well, there's this song I enjoy and it's called, Just What It Says On the Tin. And with Dalton, what you see is what you get. The person he is as Premier is the man he is as a father and a husband."

The values he has stood for during eight years in office are practised at home, she said, including his commitment to education, health care and cleaning up the environment.

"And yes, he drives us all a little bit crazy turning off the lights, sometimes when we're still in the room," she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, will need to fight for visibility in the campaign. She too has referenced her family life in campaign stops.

"I'm a single mom from Hamilton," she said in Toronto on Wednesday, "who fights on the issues and doesn't like mudslinging."

She finished the day in a Hamilton church hall, her 76-year-old mother, Diane Horwath, at her side cheering.

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"I have to say how great it is to be here with my Hamilton family tonight," she told a roaring crowd, pointing both to her mother and NDP compatriots from her home riding. Her 18-year-old son, Julian Leonetti, has also been a presence, even if he hasn't been on the hustings. Five years ago, Ms. Horwath brought him to Queen's Park for Take Our Kids to Work Day. And she mentioned him in her formal campaign launch on Wednesday.

"I have been looking forward to it for quite some time," she said. "My son, maybe not so much. But, he wishes me well."

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