Aug 132013
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Tim Hudak's leadership may be brief.

by Geoffrey Stevens

Tim Hudak is discovering the uncomfortable facts of Tory life, facts that earlier Conservative leaders, federal and provincial, had to learn, painfully, in their day.  Out of power, Tories are less a political party than a dysfunctional rabble, seething with individual ambitions and personal agendas.

They are not bound together by group values. They are not united by a common commitment to a set of social and political goals, as NDP members are. Nor are they held together by the discipline that comes from power or the proximate prospect of power, as Liberals tend to be.

Rob Ford’s brother Doug, a Toronto city councilor, is rumoured to have provincial leadership ambitions of his own.

Ask any political reporter of the pre-Harper era. They would tell you they would much rather cover the Conservatives than the Liberals or New Democrats. Why? Because the Tories were more interesting. They were news waiting to happen. We never knew what might occur next, which accident-prone Tory might shoot himself (and his colleagues) in the foot, when the wheels might fall off the party’s campaign. They were fun.

At the federal level, John Diefenbaker battled, and was eventually overcome by, “termites” – his name for party members who didn’t really care who was leader so long as it was not the “Chief.” Robert Stanfield spent much of his leadership fighting off the right-wing yahoos, western alienationists and bilingualism-deniers who were attracted to the Conservative party likes flies to honey. And Joe Clark was done in by a remorseless campaign led by his old friend and comrade, the slickly ambitious Brian Mulroney.

At the Ontario provincial level, then leader John Tory, after his defeat in the 2007 election, had to fight off activists from the party’s evangelical wing, the leader of which was (and is) MPP Frank Klees. Klees is consistent in his ambition. He challenged Tory for the leadership in 2004 and placed third. He finished second to Hudak in the 2009 leadership convention. Now he is positioning himself for a third try, allying himself with a group of dissidents who seek to force a leadership vote at the party’s policy conference next month.

Although most of the identifiable dissidents appear to be from the London area, they have attracted support from elements of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s political machine. Rob Ford’s brother Doug, a Toronto city councilor, is rumoured to have provincial leadership ambitions of his own.

The anti-Hudak campaign is not likely to succeed this time around. It is too soon to dump the leader, even for Tories. True, he lost the 2011 general election, which he probably should have won. True, he lost the crucial Kitchener-Waterloo byelection a year ago. True, he won only one of the five provincial byelections earlier this month.

In Hudak’s defence, all five byelections were in Liberal-held seats. Not only did Hudak gain one seat (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), he gained it in Toronto where the Conservatives had had no seats at all. In process, although they came away with just one seat, the Tories’ total popular vote in the five contests was greater than that of any other party.

Hudak will survive in September – partly because Klees is less popular in the party than Hudak and partly because Conservatives realize that Kathleen Wynne’s minority Liberal government could fall at any time. The last thing a party wants is to be caught changing leaders when an election is called.

That said, Hudak’s days as leader are probably numbered. He has been a disappointment. He doesn’t resonate with the public. He has lost when he should have won. He has been relentlessly negative at time when the electorate is weary of attack, attack, attack. He plays to the party’s right wing when he needs to broaden its appeal. The NDP and Liberals are, or are becoming, modern political parties. The Tories are not. They are mired in the past, in the Mike Harris era.

Internal feuding and dissension over the leadership will cripple the party. Left unchecked, they will prevent Hudak from becoming premier of Ontario.

About Geoffrey Stevens

Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at the address below. This article appeared in the Waterloo Region Record and the Guelph Mercury.

© Copyright 2013 Geoffrey Stevens, All rights Reserved. Written For:

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