Progressive Conservative MPPs said they did not receive advance notice of Tim Hudak's controversial pledge to axe 100,000 public-sector jobs, with some blaming his platform for getting the party thumped by the Liberals in last week's election.
Mr. Hudak on Monday met his caucus for the first time since the defeat, in a charged afternoon meeting that lasted more than three hours. Afterward, he said he was "proud" of his right-wing campaign – which involved slashing the size of government and cutting corporate taxes.
"We put a very clear alternative in front of voters each and every day. I'm proud of that. There is going to have to be a cutting-down in spending because we're deep in debt," Mr. Hudak said. "Whatever you thought of what Hudak stood for, you know I believed in it, you know I fought for it, you know I had fire in my belly."
The Tories wound up losing nine seats and pulling in their lowest popular-vote share since 1990. Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals were re-elected with a majority government.
Mr. Hudak also vowed to stay on as leader until a successor is chosen, despite one caucus member saying he should immediately resign.
"We need renewal within our party and it has to start today," PC MPP Todd Smith said. "This was an anti-Tim Hudak election."
Mr. Smith also urged the party to drop the "confrontational approach" that saw Mr. Hudak battle unions and speak frankly about the cuts he wanted to make.
"We need to definitely not poke the bear, so to speak. What we've seen is a very confrontational approach over the last little while and I think we need to have a softer approach, a more collaborative approach," he said.
MPPs said the public-sector job cuts came up repeatedly on voters' doorsteps. It also hurt the PCs that their signature promise to create one million jobs over eight years was based in part on a mathematical error that caused them to inflate the projected number of jobs they could create.
Both the Liberals and public-sector unions ran ad campaigns accusing Mr. Hudak of planning mass firings, even though he said many of the job cuts would come through attrition and contracting out.
"It was our policy that we couldn't explain as well as we should have," said Doug Holyday, who lost his Etobicoke-Lakeshore seat last week. "I knew things weren't quite as good as I'd hoped they'd be, and I was getting some pushback in places that had been supportive before."
With the election done, attention is also turning to the party leadership.
Deputy Leader Christine Elliott, who ran for the top job in 2009, is said to still harbour leadership aspirations. Others tipped as possible candidates are Vic Fedeli, the party finance critic, and energy critic Lisa MacLeod.