Hudak not backing down on proposal to end mandatory union membership
Party leader Tim Hudak, speaks at the Ontario Progressive Conservative party Policy Convention in London, Ont.,Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley
Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 29, 2013 10:22AM EDT
TORONTO -- Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is sticking to his guns on a controversial proposal to end mandatory union membership, even though his party appears to be split over the issue.
The idea got the green light at last weekend's Tory policy convention, but only by a narrow margin.
It passed with 53 per cent of the delegates supporting it, and a party member who participated in the closed-door debate said the audience was divided on the union issue.
Other Tory members voiced similar concerns that some of the party's policies, such as opposing off-duty paid jobs for police officers -- could drive away unionized workers.
If it ends up in their campaign platform, it could spark a backlash among the thousands of broader public sector workers in vote-rich Toronto, which the Tories need to form a majority government.
Even Hudak's predecessor, John Tory, has urged Hudak to turf the so-called "right to choice" policy, saying it's too divisive and will cost the party votes.
But the Tory leader -- who'll make the final call on the party platform -- isn't backing down, saying Ontario needs "bold" solutions to tackle its mounting economic troubles.
"I think modernizing our labour laws is going to be essential to our success," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"Is it a magic bullet? No, but it's an important part of the plan."
Ontario needs to lower the costs of business: cutting taxes, reducing energy rates, balancing the budget, he said. He'll make the final decision on what's in the platform, but the party's labour policies don't need to be jettisoned.
"It'll modernize our labour laws, it'll attract jobs, particularly in manufacturing, help us get government more efficient," he said. "But our policies shouldn't be seen as pro-union or anti-union. They're pro worker."
Hudak also faced tough questions at the convention about how he'll remake what one delegate called the party's "heartless, business-oriented, money first, not caring enough about people" image.
He's struggled to improve his own "likeability" factor. He mentions his parents -- one a former principal and the other a teacher -- and his young daughter Miller more frequently lately, gives his caucus more airtime to present their ideas, and every time someone mentions polls that put his personal popularity behind the party's, the conversation quickly turns to policy.
He'll be up against two women in the next election, including Ontario's first openly gay premier. Pundits say he needs to reach out to women and people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community if he wants to win in big cities, a prerequisite for a majority government.
There's a "world of difference" between him the other two party leaders, Hudak argues. And his plan to implement the "significant structural change" that's needed to transform a deeply indebted, have-not province into a leader in job creation and business investment has universal appeal, he said.
"I think what the province is looking for is a leader with a plan to turn our province around," Hudak said. "So it's respect for that kind of leader that is going to motivate votes."
It won't be easy to convince voters that he's not the big bad wolf who'll blow down Ontario's cherished public services to balance the books. The governing Liberals are already hammering Hudak over his policies, accusing him of importing U.S.-style Tea Party policies and harbouring a "horrible" agenda.
"Likeability means you're going to say yes to a lot of things. I think when it comes to government spending, we've got to say a lot more no's," he said.
"That's the kind of leader I plan to be. Somebody who is going to be focusing on our plan on how to turn the province around," he added. "And I think leaders who stick to a plan, (who) are clear with where they're going, earn respect."
Hudak grins. "And people can see what a great likeable guy I am all at the same time. Fantastic."