Photo by Rene Johnston / Getstock
While the media spotlight's been on the open rebellion against Andrea Horwath in the NDP, it's PC leader Tim Hudak who should really be worried.
What's that smell? It's the stink of electoral failures past wafting through PC party ranks.
After a furious start to the campaign, there were telltale signs this week that the ol' Hudak hex is back. I'm not talking about the odd coincidence that Walmart announced it's laying off 750 employees this week, which would be of particular interest to Hudak, a former travelling exec for the company, whose plan for the Ontario economy is decidedly big-box-inspired.
No, it's the latest Abacus Data poll done for Hudak's friends at the Toronto Sun, which shows him 3 points behind the Liberals as Ontarians begin to turn their attention to the campaign. More importantly, the online poll of 1,000 voters points to two things: Liberal support is hardening, meaning fewer are thinking of moving to the NDP or PCs; and PC support is trending downward. Have voters started tuning Hudak out?
His early campaign momentum is waning, which can only mean one thing: expect the PC leader to follow up his scorched-earth policies with a few nastier proposals to try to shore up support in that fractured Tory base.
That strategy worked for him in 2011 - sorta. When things started to go sideways, he went on the offensive against, among other things, the Liberals' gay-positive education curriculum. Remember that dump in the 905 of PC campaign literature raising the spectre of the curriculum encouraging "cross-dressing for six-year-olds"?
Hudak's not just blowing off urban voters and scaring the bejesus out of Libs and NDPers with his plan to take an axe to the civil service, kill wind and solar projects, bury LRTs and whatever else is standing in the way of his twisted vision for less government; he's also frightening moderate conservatives.
Folks like - surprise - his PC predecessor John Tory, who happens to have Kathleen Wynne's former chief of staff, Tom Allison, working on his mayoral campaign. If anything, Hudak's radical push has helped galvanize support against the PCs.
The Libs can't jump for joy yet. Much can still happen in the two weeks before the June 12 vote. But the Abacus Data poll and others suggest the Grits are edging into majority government territory. As incomprehensible as that may seem, the numbers confirm internal polling done for the PCs at the start of the election that put the Libs at around 38 per cent support and the PCs around 31.
Even folks in the crucial 905 battleground the PCs are targeting seem unable to stomach Hudak's far-right drift. The PCs and Libs are neck-and-neck there.
Also problematic for the PCs is what Hudak's leadership may mean for the party's long-term electoral prospects. It's political hara-kiri to pursue policies that only entrench the party as a rural rump.
While Dalton McGuinty was said to be a cold fish, he won two majorities for the Liberals and came within a hair's breadth of a third. Hudak's unlikeability, on the other hand, has been a fatal flaw. To meet him is to think he's a nice guy, people say, but in front of a mic he turns into a cliché-spouting automaton.
But it's not just his unease in front of the cameras that turns off anyone who's under 60 and/or doesn't live in rural Ontario. Believability is an issue, too. His pledge to create a million jobs, for example, has been widely panned by economists.
Past bloodletting in the war over his leadership is adding to Hudak's troubles, too, though he avoided the embarrassment of a formal review at the party's policy convention last September. That was shortly after the high-profile demotions of finance critic Peter Shurman and former leadership rival Randy Hillier - the former for billing taxpayers $20K for a housing allowance Hudak reportedly signed off on; the latter for allegedly breaking caucus confidentiality on a private member's bill that would put the PCs in line for big donations from construction giant EllisDon. Back then there was talk of a reform wing of the PCs making a break from the party, and a ceiling was imposed on election spending by the same party executive that wanted to put the matter of Hudak's leadership to a vote.
Those episodes help explain his campaign push to the right. The platform is clearly not about growing the PC vote, but getting out the hardcore. It's cynical politics 101, with Hudak banking on riled-up PC supporters and low voter turnout to take him over the top.
To that end, how far will he go? There's no telling. Hudak has everything to lose; anything short of an election win and he's a goner.