Tim Hudak is not a politician who easily abandons a particular line once he has settled on it.
This is the same Progressive Conservative Leader, after all, who spent the first week of the 2011 election campaign insisting the Liberals wanted to reward employers for hiring “foreign workers” – long past the point at which it had become obvious he was misrepresenting the governing party’s proposal, and that he was doing himself no favours in the process.
It’s no great surprise, then, that on Wednesday he stood by his claim that his policies would create a million jobs, even as it become inescapable that this claim is predicated on a laughable mathematical error. And considering that the Tories have spent millions of dollars advertising that precise claim already, and named their platform after it, Mr. Hudak may very well keep standing by his number.
If so, his encounters with reporters could get ugly in a hurry. And the Tories also have the small problem that, even as they try to present their leader as the most serious of the three vying for the Premier’s office, his favourite promise has become the fodder for jokes.
Tim Hudak called the Blue Jays to congratulate them on their phenomenal 72 straight wins. #hudak8
— John Bowman (@johnbowman) May 29, 2014
Tim Hudak’s favourite Meatloaf song is 16 Out of 24 Ain’t Bad. #Hudak8
— scottfeschuk (@scottfeschuk) May 29, 2014
But the calculation, on the Tories’ part, may be that their supporters won’t care.
They may be right about that, given the polarization of the electorate. Most of the Ontarians inclined to vote for Mr. Hudak believe so much more in him and his policies than with his opponents and theirs that there is almost nothing he could do to lose them at this point. And most other people already don’t trust him, so this probably won’t make much difference with them either.
Despite his campaign being far more about motivation than persuasion, though, Mr. Hudak has still been trying to win over at least a few swing voters – including some moderately right-leaning voters (notably in the Greater Toronto Area) who could still vote either Liberal or PC, and those (particularly in the province’s southwest) who very much want a change from the Liberals but haven’t decided whether to cast their votes with the Tories or the New Democrats.
To the extent that Mr. Hudak has been trying to reach at all beyond his base, it’s been by presenting himself as the man with the plan. His message (which of course also plays well with dyed-in-the-wool conservatives) is that he may not be the most likable of the party leaders, but he’s the one willing to tell hard truths and do difficult things to help get Ontario out of a rut.
For Mr. Hudak to go out day after day and continue to stand by a claim that even members of his own campaign team acknowledge is inaccurate may not be especially helpful in presenting himself as a straight shooter. And it could sway at least a few voters, as well, who want change from the Liberals but also are nervous about putting their trust in him.
Not that acknowledging he’s spent the past several weeks campaigning on a promise he shouldn’t have made would exactly firm up his leadership credentials among the doubters, either. For a leader reluctant to publicly correct himself at the best of times, the inclination will be to just try to ride it out.
Update: The best play for a party in a situation like this is to change the channel, if it has any ability to do so. The Tories may have at least partly achieved that on Thursday morning, by releasing documents showing a recent and unannounced cabinet decision to bail out MaRS, the not-for-profit research corporation in downtown Toronto.
They were clearly waiting for an opportune moment to release these documents, and my guess is that all things being equal they would have done so before next Tuesday’s debate. In any event, while not exactly easy to wrap one’s head around, the MaRS story is odd enough that it looks like Thursday might not be a very good day for Tim Hudak or Kathleen Wynne.