Hudak brings his own 'common sense' to Ont.
Published Sunday, June 28, 2009 7:41PM EDT
Tim Hudak is taking the reins of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, bringing the organization back to the hard-lined, right-wing policies it became known for in the 1990s.
Hudak, who on Saturday beat out rivals Frank Klees and Christine Elliott to replace John Tory as the 21st leader of the party, was once a close adviser to former premier Mike Harris.
Harris endorsed Hudak early on in the campaign and many saw his appointment as a way to get the Tories back to the days of the Common Sense Revolution -- a Harris platform that outlined the party's blue conservative policies.
Hudak has said that there are still issues from the Common Sense Revolution that resonate with Ontarians.
"I think the province is on the wrong track and I think Tim is the kind of leader who can restore prosperity to Ontario," Harris told reporters. "It's a very different track than (Premier) Dalton McGuinty is on. It's not 'spend more than you have.' It's not 'try to be all things to people.'"
Apart from Harris, he has had the backing of other prominent Tories including federal ministers John Baird and Tony Clement.
Hudak, 41, is a right-of-centre politician who is expected to take the party on a different path than John Tory's centrist-conservative vision.
In his acceptance speech he recommitted himself to the promises he outlined in his campaign. He said he will focus on rewarding hard work and ingenuity and will help support middle-income families.
The trained economist wants to restore Ontario's reputation as Canada's wealthiest province. Slashing business taxes and cutting government spending are part of his plans if the Conservatives come back into power.
Hudak's plan to rid Ontario of the Human Rights Tribunal has sparked the most debate during the campaign. He has said that he wants discrimination cases heard in specialized courts -- a move highly criticized by rivals Elliott and Klees who warned him that such a move would further separate party members.
The Progressive Conservatives have already endured two years of infighting and need to be united on issues, they said. But Hudak said he's confident his plans for the party will bring the party back together.
During his acceptance speech, Hudak made an attempt to reach out to his rivals commending them for their platform and telling the crowd that each of them will play an important role in his plans.
Ontario's ruling Liberal government has also spoken out against Hudak's election as Leader of the Official Opposition. The party, governed by Premier Dalton McGuinty, dismissed Hudak's leadership as a throwback to the days when the Conservatives were despised by teachers, nurses and social workers who fought tirelessly against their policies.
"Ontario families don't want to go back to the days of the Harris-gang calling the shots and Tim Hudak following," Chris Bentley, a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government, told the Globe and Mail on Saturday.
Though he is known as a small-c conservative, the blue lines of politics do not run in Hudak's blood, though political activism does. He has said that his grandfather was an activist for the NDP and a union leader in Sarnia's petrochemical industry. His mother served three terms as a town councillor.
Hudak has been involved in politics since 1995 when he became an MPP in Ontario's Niagara South riding. He continued to be re-elected and in his second term and was named minister for the Northern Development and Mines portfolio in Harris's cabinet.
He went on to hold several other cabinet posts, serving as minister of culture, tourism and recreation and minister of consumer and business services.
When the Liberals defeated the Conservatives in 2003, Hudak held on to his seat and was named Caucus chair from 2003 to 2004. In the following years, he would also serve as a critic for the municipal affairs ministry, the finance ministry, public infrastructure renewal ministry and research and innovation ministry.
Hudak grew up in Fort Erie with his younger sister, the grandchildren of immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia.
He is married to Harris' former chief of staff Deb Hutton with whom he shares a 20-month-old daughter Miller.