Now that the Decline and Fall of John Tory - the erstwhile Next Premier of Ontario - has receded into history, change is on the horizon. The presently leaderless Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will need to re-establish its bona fides with the electorate in order to have a chance of redecorating Dalton's office come 2011, and the most direct way to do that is to choose a leader that can guide the party with a fresh face into the future. The rudder started turning yesterday when Tim Hudak, Member of Provincial Parliament for Niagara West—Glanbrook, threw himself into contention.
Provincial politics in Ontario have been dominated by Dalton McGuinty's Liberal Party for the last six years, ever since the voters sent Ernie Eves and, by extension, the legacy of Premier Mike Harris to the curb. Presently the Liberals command an overwhelming majority in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, holding seventy-two seats to the Progressive Conservatives' twenty-four. Nevertheless, that kind of majority can evaporate easily in the right circumstances - such as, say, an economic recession. Though the Liberals already have a plan in place to bribe Ontarians with their own money, the passage of the harmonized sales tax - set to go live on Canada Day, 2010 - will no doubt be a bruise on many voters when the polling stations open, two years from now.
John Tory may never have had a serious chance to take Ontario's helm in 2007, if only because he exercised poor judgement by choosing to stand for election in Don Valley West, one of Toronto's inner suburban ridings - because, realistically, the way things generally go, Conservatives do not have a chance in hell of winning any riding south of Steeles Avenue. Hudak, by contrast, has served as an MPP since 1995, long enough for three ridings to be dissolved and reformed under him. In 2007, he won his seat by a margin of 20.9% - more than ten thousand votes.
So he's obviously popular, and a canny enough politician to retain his seat even as Ontario turned away from what the Progressive Conservatives had come to represent under Mike Harris. There's just one problem.
Tim Hudak? Who is this guy?
Let's see what the backgrounders and papers say. He's from Fort Erie... he's got a Master's in economics... and he says that "we've got to move beyond the red Tory versus blue Tory debate." He is, according to the National Post, from the right wing of the party. Not really all that much to go on, says I.
Outside of extremely rare circumstances, an MPP is not going to be well-known outside of his or her own riding. The same was true for Dalton McGuinty in the provincial election of 1999, and his campaign was devastated by PC attack ads that marked him as "just not up to the job." I have no doubt that in the days and weeks to come, there will be a push to build Mr. Hudak into more of a known quantity for the people of Ontario. After all, that's the best way, isn't it? To quote a comrade who I talked about this posting with, "they didn't think anyone we'd heard of had a chance of winning our trust?"
Tim Hudak is a cipher, pure and simple, ready to be dressed up in whatever clothes are most advantageous for the Progressive Conservatives and readied to do his level best to win command of the province. It's just that I have to wonder who he is. As of the time I write this, his photo does not appear on his Wikipedia article. For that matter, not even a photo of his riding appears on its own article. It's a question mark superimposed on the world, which is a fairly accurate reflection of what Ontarians outside of Niagara West—Glanbrook know about Tim Hudak.
We'll see how things develop in the months and years ahead. Though the Toronto Star describes Hudak as "the presumed front-runner," his bid for the leadership is contested by Christine Elliott, Frank Klees, and Randy Hillier. There's plenty of time for the news to come out - there's plenty of time for the dialogue to be framed. Somehow, I expect that he will end up exhibiting all the traits and beliefs necessary to appeal to 905ers who yearn in their hearts to vote for the PCs again and damn the torpedoes.
Personally, I mostly wanted to get in on the ground floor of calling him "Tim Who-Dat?," because it's such a painfully obvious pun that all of the papers will be using it if his campaign goes anywhere at all. Look at the degree to which Joe Clark has been unable to live down his nickname.