Last Man Standing: Hudak Failed, But Could Still Prevail

The results of the recent Ontario by-elections were disappointing for die-hard Ontario Tory supporters who believed in their bones that the sins of the McGuinty Liberals would finally deal a devastating blow to the Ontario Liberals led by Premier Wynne.

I am not suggesting that Hudak and the Tories should have won four of the five provincial seats, being contested. The Windsor seat, formerly held by Dwight Duncan, was a lock for the NDP from the outset. But Hudak and the Tories had solid opportunities in the provincial ridings of Scarborough-Guildwood and Ottawa South. They should have delivered on at least one of those two ridings.

In Scarborough-Guildwood, the Liberal candidate Mitzi Hunter was beatable. Hudak and his advisers should have played hardball and recruited a higher profile candidate than Ken Kiruba. He is a nice solid guy, but clearly lacked the public profile and winability factor of Mitzi Hunter and the NDP candidate Adam Giambrone, former TTC Chairman and lead author of the LRT for Scarborough.

Either Hudak has to change his advisers or they have to step up their game. And they better do it quickly.

Or hit the road, Jack. Because you guys and women are acting like rank political amateurs.

Hudak and the Tories have the very real ability to form the government in the next general election. Why they cannot attract and recruit more high profile and more winnable candidates like Doug Holyday, is beyond comprehension.

Hudak’s people once again were outmanaged and outmaneuvered by such Liberal strategists as Greg Sorbara and even by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s strategists. You have to give credit to Horwath and her people. They recruited high profile candidates in the Windsor and London West by-elections. And they even attracted Adam Giambrone who gave Hunter and Kiruba a real run in Scarborough. And they got out the vote in those ridings.

The second problem was that Hudak allowed the Liberals to steal his pro-subway message. Hudak had been promoting subways, not streetcars and LRT, for many months, well in advance of the Scarborough by-election. And Mitzi Hunter was in favour of the LRT, before she was against it. As President of Civic Action, Hunterspent six years campaigning for an LRT for Scarborough. Now suddenly, on the Road to Scarborough Town Centre, she discovered subways and overnight, Hunter became the sudden subway advocate.

Hudak and Kiruma should not have let Hunter steal the subway issue from them. They should have hammered Hunter and the Liberals for only recently supporting subways and better transit for Scarberians, purely based on political expediency. Purely to win a by-election.

Thirdly, Hudak failed to properly capitalize on the appeal and the message of Rob Ford to Scarberians. Though Ford is a rotund white guy, he has great support and appeal in Scarborough. The predominantly non-white Scarborough community, likes Ford because he cares about them and genuinely believes that Scarberians deserve more and better transit opportunities which must include the Bloor-Danforth subway extension from Kennedy to the Scarborough Town Centre.

The recent success of Ford Fest in Scarborough indicates that the hard-working Asian, South Asian, Filipino, and black communities also like Ford’s belief that government should not be wasteful and be very careful about using taxpayers’ hard-earned money. And government should not waste such taxpayer money on projects that only benefit the downtown Toronto elites. Or in the case of the gas plant cancellations, greedy American hedge funds, friendly gas plant operators, and Bay Street law firms and bankers.

Fourthly, Hudak cannot just be the angry white guy railing against the sins and corruption of the McGuinty/Wynne Liberal government. Hudak has to be able to resonate with the voter. He failed to do so in the five by-elections. He has to be able to connect with the Ontario voters on a gut and personal level. In private, Hudak is quite a funny, warm, personable, and witty fellow. Unfortunately, in front of the camera, he loses his natural ease and grace and becomes too stilted. And too concerned with talking points and scoring debating points.

I suggest Hudak should let his hair down. Let his natural self become his public persona. A good politician can be warm and charming, but still bitingly critical and effective. Consider the masterful former Ontario premier Bill Davis.

As for the Ottawa South riding, the above criticism of Hudak applies to this riding as well. Hudak personally campaigned here. He and his Tory candidate should have done better. Hudak has to connect better to people. He has to get his message across more clearly and more forcefully, but also with more warmth and appeal.

Hudak should be more the “happy warrior” and less the cold warrior. Politics is a blood sport. But politics is all about people. And it should be fun as well.

The Ottawa South Tory candidate was solid, but next time, the Tories must significantly improve their ground game in that riding as in all the ridings. That is, the Tories must not only attract more potential Tory voters, but identify them and ensure their individual Tory riding organizations get these Tory voters out to vote in the advance polls or on election day.

In the Ottawa South riding, McGuinty’s riding organization’s ground game was excellent. But the new Liberal MPP from Ottawa South was beatable and is beatable in the next general election, probably next year.

To the hard right Tories who want Hudak’s scalp and a new leadership race, you should just chill. Pop open a cold one. Grab a jerk chicken leg. Don’t worry, man. Be Happy. Now is not the time for divisive internal debates about Hudak’s leadership. The only hope for the NDP and the Liberals is that the Tories self-destruct internally over such questions.This is a road the Tories should not go down within 12 months of the next general election.

Also, Tories should not be taken in by the left’s campaign of disinformation about the alleged failures of Hudak. Comrade Gerald Caplan’s recent Globe and Mail opinion piece of misrepresentation and half-truths is more Putin-like propaganda, than respectable political commentary. Caplan claims, referring to Hudak: “He’s also pushing perhaps the most reactionary, flagrantly class-based policies Ontarians have ever seen, making Mike Harris look like a bleeding-heart liberal.”

Oh, give us break. Hudak has been pushing for subways and federal and provincial funding for subways for the transit-challenged and lower income people of Scarborough so that these Scarborough residents can enjoy 10% of the transit opportunities enjoyed by the wealthy white elites in Forest Hill, Rosedale, the Annex, and High Park, who are being represented by such well-known leftists as Josh Matlow and Gord Perks (who, by the way, are opposed to financially assisting the residents of Scarborough).

Who are the reactionaries now? This ain’t the 60s and the Waffle Party is not trying to take over Stephen Lewis’ NDP.

But I digress.

Hudak and the Tories have a real and legitimate shot at taking over the Ontario government within a year.
Doug Holyday brings terrific municipal and government/finance expertise to the party, and a great GTA profile. Christine Elliott is a very strong deputy leader and an excellent health care critic. And let us not forget such smart and hard-working members such as Frank Klees and Vic Fedeli, who have relentlessly held the Liberals’ feet to the fire on the Ornge and Gas Plant scandals, respectively.

Hudak may have lost a battle or two. But the political war is just heating up.

And I still believe, in the end, Hudak will be the last man standing.

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