Tim Hudak launched his second attempt to win over Ontario voters with a promise to maintain a "laser-like" focus on a positive message of creating jobs.
Nearly two-and-a-half years have passed since the Progressive Conservative Leader headed into his first campaign with a big advantage in the polls, only to see victory slip away, allowing then-Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty to eke out a minority win.
Some of that blame inevitably landed on Mr. Hudak's shoulders and he has had to fend off challenges to his leadership. But this time, he is the one with experience under his belt as he aims to unseat Premier Kathleen Wynne, who is running her first campaign as Liberal Leader.
At a scheduled town-hall type event in Ottawa that suddenly became a campaign launch, Mr. Hudak took a self-deprecating tone when asked about his leadership and the fact that he failed to win over Ontarians on his first try.
"If you're looking for who is going to be the best actor on the stage, if you're looking for somebody who is running a popularity contest by promising funding on all kinds of projects but they don't have the cheques to cash in, well then vote for the Liberal Leader or the NDP Leader," he said. "But if you want somebody who has got a turnaround plan to get Ontario working again, look at me, look at our team, look at our million jobs plan."
Mr. Hudak's event took place just minutes after Ms. Wynne triggered an election for June 12. The Premier's request for dissolution of the legislature came hours after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announced that she could no longer support the minority Liberal government.
The government released a 2014 budget Thursday that had several NDP-friendly policies – including a new pension plan for workers who do not have a company pension – but Ms. Horwath said she can't trust the Liberals to implement their promises.
Mr. Hudak said voters will have a clear choice between his party on one side and the Liberals and NDP on the other.
"Because honest to goodness you can't tell them apart these days," he said.
Mr. Hudak has been urging the Premier to call an election for months, primarily in relation to the Liberals' controversial and costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants.
The gas-plant decision – which Ontario's Auditor General said will cost taxpayers more than $1-billion – has been an ongoing source of tension at Queen's Park as hearings into matter have kept the story on the political front-burner.
In January, Mr. Hudak proposed a bill that he said would create one million jobs over eight years by creating conditions that would boost business investment. The Progressive Conservatives' economic plan, which was outlined in the bill and is now the party's central campaign plank, calls for the corporate tax rate to drop to 10 per cent from 11.5 per cent. It would also reduce inter-provincial trade barriers, lower electricity costs and encourage more Ontarians to enter the skilled trades.
In responding to questions from reporters, Mr. Hudak said the Liberals are making many big promises they can't afford. Though he criticized the Liberals and the NDP during his presentation, he maintained that he will spend "100 per cent" of his time during the campaign speaking about the benefits of his jobs plan.
"I have got a laser-like focus on job creation. That's what I'm going to be talking about each and every day," he said. "I've got a million jobs plan to actually get hydro under control, to get taxes down, to encourage investment in job creation again, to have a government that spends within its means and to make sure we have a focus on the skilled trades and knocking down these walls of red tape like the College of Trades that are going to chase more talent out of our province. I'm excited about my plan."