TORONTO – There are no signs that losing the Kitchener-Waterloo riding the Progressive Conservatives had held for 22 years will result in any formal challenges to Tim Hudak’s leadership of the party.
The Conservatives lost both byelections this week, with the governing Liberals holding onto Vaughan just north of Toronto, while the NDP captured Kitchener-Waterloo for the first time in the party’s history.
Hudak blamed “a tsunami” of public sector union troops for helping the New Democrats take the riding vacated by veteran Tory Elizabeth Witmer, who was lured away by Premier Dalton McGuinty with a $188,000-a-year job as head of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
“I’m proud of our team,” Hudak told reporters after the byelection loss, “but we came up against a big, hard wall of hard-core union support and activism.”
The Tory leader flatly dismissed suggestions that he should consider resigning, and said he was confident they would win the next election.
“Do I wish I’d won? Absolutely,” said Hudak. “The buck stops with me, I’m always the leader.”
There were immediate questions about Hudak’s leadership, but party members _ who did not want to be identified publicly _ said the situation would have been much worse had the Liberals won Kitchener-Waterloo and secured their majority government in the process.
Political scientist Barry Kay at Waterloo’s Sir Wilfrid Laurier University said Hudak should take the blame for losing the byelection, especially after blowing a Conservative lead heading into last fall’s general election, allowing the Liberals to get a third term, although reduced to a minority.
“It is a reflection on Hudak,” Kay said of the Tory loss in Kitchener-Waterloo.
“I frankly thought Hudak disappointed severely in the last provincial election (and) if I was a Conservative, I would have thought that was a serious reflection on Hudak.”
Even Tories disappointed with Hudak agree he should be given a chance to lead the party in the next general election, which could come at any time in a minority government.
And if there was a lot of anger directed at Hudak, there still is no mechanism in the party to challenge his leadership.
“My hunch is Hudak will be around for the next election because I don’t see how he can be removed unless he decides he wants to spend more time with his family,” said Kay.
Hudak easily survived an automatic leadership review following last fall’s general election, earning 78.7 per cent of the vote from party members.
Kay said Tories should look closely at the byelection results, calling Kitchener-Waterloo a “bellwether” riding that reflects attitudes across Ontario.
Most political observers believe the Liberal’s budget to be introduced next spring could trigger another general election, and the Conservatives wouldn’t want to be caught in the middle of a leadership contest with a possible election only months away.
In addition, there are no obvious successors waiting in the wings to challenge Hudak, who took over in 2009 after former PC leader John Tory failed to win a seat in the legislature in a byelection.