The knives are out! At least that's how the Toronto Sun is putting it, and it kind of sounds a bit like something Arnold Schwarzenegger might yell at a squad of bad guys before he, himself, takes out the knives.
But the knives in this instance have Tim Hudak's name written all over them. Apparently some upstarts, and not-so-upstart members, of the Ontario Tory membership feel that a showing of one out of five in last week's by-elections is reason enough to say "Sayonara" to the leadership of Hudak. It's an interesting question: with the Liberal government under perpetual seige, is the one thing keeping the Ontario PCs from seizing power at Queen's Park Tim Hudak? As a wise man once said, "Short answer yes, with an if; long answer no, with a but..."
The short answer is yes, if one is to take the results at face value. PCs certainly came out in high numbers last Thursday. Voter turnout was predictably low, but not apocalyptic, indeed Elections Ontatio says that voter turnout was nearly 37 per cent, which is better than the typical 30 to 35 per cent voter turnout reached in by-election situations. The point being that low turnout is supposed to help the party in power, but despite that the Liberals retained only two out of five seats in relatively safe ridings. It suggests that while there was anger with the government, people were gun shy about turning to Hudak. As for that one victory in Toronto, Doug Holyday in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, it seemed more like Hudak was riding Holyday's coat tails than vice versa.
As for the longer answer, Hudak is fighting uphill on a couple of different fronts. First of all, is the general lack of appetite in the electorate for a general election. Granted, as one political science prof pointed out on CTV's Province Wide in the spring, there's rarely an appetite to go to the polls, but it does seem particularly pronounced now. Adding to that is a general uncertainty of undecided voters as to whom to throw their support behind. The Liberals are the authors of all that scandal, but Kathleen Wynne does come across as a genuine departure from her predecessor. Andrea Horwath is well liked, but Ontario voters have long memories that go back to the last time we had a NDP government provincially. And as for Hudak, well...
Also in Horwath's favour is her ability to work across party lines. People see that and respect that even though it opens her up to accusations of sleeping with the enemy, and to the casual observer, makes it harder for her to come out and hammer hard against Wynne and the Liberals. Hudak, meanwhile, was against the budget before he had even seen it, and he knew he'd hate it so much that he declared it a confidence motion before the document had even been run off the presses. He painted himself into a corner and banked on the anger of the gas plant scandal, as well as the NDP's own electoral appetites, to bring down the government, and instead he was left empty-handed. At best he looked like a child who didn't get his own way, and at worst looked completely impotent in terms of summoning political will and power.
Then there's Hudak himself. People don't know what to make of him. In terms of his policies, Hudak's occasional white papers tend to make an initial splash but are soon written off; things like eliminating mandatory union dues, and allowing beer and liquor to be sold in supermarkets. Other that that, Hudak's been focused on letting us know that whatever the Liberals are for, he's for the exact opposite. Or in some cases, he just doesn't like the way Liberals do things, like in the case of wind power, he's not against it, he's against government spending on wind power. Where the short fall might be made up, he hasn't said, but the way it is right now is a no-go for Hudak.
So in the vacuum of uncertainty, Hudak leaves himself open to being branded by others, and because of his hard right stance on many issues, some wags have dubbed him, "Tea Party Tim," a nom du plume that's not going to win him many friends in Ontario's numerous urban centres. The label may be unfair, but Hudak's hardly tried to shake it off either. As a cabinet minister under Mike Harris, Hudak is seen as an heir to Harris' "Common Sense Revolution," a revolt that a lot of people in the province are still smarting from. I have to say, seeing Hudak in the flesh, he's personal, and engaging, but sometimes that doesn't translate to television screens in the best way; the sound bite culture can kill even the best candidates.
It's also worth noting that outside the Etobicoke-Lakeshore victory, Hudak's PCs secured strong second place showings in the other four by-election ridings, which suggests that if Hudak's an impediment to undecided voters casting ballots for the Tories, some people are still able to hold their nose and vote anyway, as the saying goes. Or maybe they didn't. Maybe the controversy stems from a few people disappointed that they can't make more traction in bringing down a corrupt government and they need someone, somewhere to vent.
Long story short, Hudak, I think, is here to stay. Emboldened, come fall, all the opposition parties will be hoping to push the Liberals further to the brink and provoke a full-blown general election. At that point, if Hudak can't at least set up a minority government, this will become a whole other conversation.