Will Tim Hudak stand by his discredited jobs figure?

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.

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.

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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.

What impact will 100,000 fewer jobs have on Ontario’s public sector?

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak pledged Friday to cut 100,000 public sector workers from Ontario’s workforce if his party won the June 12 election. What kind of impact will that have?

It would be the biggest two-year cut to the public service since at least 1981, the earliest date for which Statistics Canada publishes this data. The size of the public workforce would return to levels not seen since roughly 2006 and would drop nearly 9 per cent, according to an analysis by The Globe.

The data comes from Statistics Canada and includes full-time and part-time employees in all levels of provincial government, including health care and universities. Mr. Hudak says he would spare doctors and nurses, though other administrators in health care would face cuts.

Ontario’s public sector workers

1981-2012 (2013, 2014 and 2015 projected)

SOURCE: Statistics Canada.
NOTES: Data averaged by year, unadjusted. Data for 2013 was estimated based on identical year-over-year growth from 2012.

Compared to Ontario overall

Ontario’s public sector has grown over the years, but so has Ontario’s population. So how do they compare?

The province’s public sector has grown much faster than Ontario as a whole since 2000, increasing by 43 per cent over that time compared to just 15 per cent for Ontario overall. In describing their decision, Tories referenced returning the public workforce to 2009 levels, an apparent reference to the growth in the public workforce since then. According to numbers provided by the party, there were roughly 100,000 fewer public servants working in Ontario at that time.

Overall, provincial public employees from represented about 8.4 per cent of Ontario’s total population in 2012. This would fall to about 7.6 per cent under Hudak’s plan.

How Ontario voters view ‘corporate welfare’

It may be complicating his search for campaign photo-ops, but Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak can be expected to keep railing against “corporate welfare” – government support for individual companies – which he argues is an ineffective way of picking winners and losers.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, can be expected to keep defending such expenditures as well-targeted efforts to attract companies to Ontario, or encourage businesses to expand their operations.

It stands to be one of the more interesting debates during this campaign, because both leaders seem to be fired up for it and there are decent arguments to be made on either side.

But where does the electorate come down on it?

A poll taken in March by Innovative Research Group offers a bit of insight. It asked a weighted sample of 1,000 Ontarians: “Thinking about the role of the provincial government when it comes to the economy, which statement is closest to your point of view?”

Of the two options they were given, 48 per cent agreed that “Government needs to be an active partner to help Ontario businesses compete in the world with incentives to create research and development, training programs and other initiatives to support high-potential industries.” Only 36 per cent, meanwhile, went with “Government helps business the best by reducing taxes and red tape and staying out of the way, not by trying to pick winners with taxpayer money.” (16 per cent didn’t know.)

Those numbers would seem to augur well for Ms. Wynne’s Liberals. But more interesting, as it pertains to the dynamics of this campaign, is when the poll is broken down by party, including core supporters of each one and swing voters:

Role of government in the Ontario economy

1,000 Ontarians were asked whether they supported government as an active partner in helping businesses compete.

SOURCE: Innovative Research Group

Now, it needs to be said that the samples get fairly small for each group, so there’s a decent margin for error. But it’s fairly telling among all the groups, including Liberal-PC swing voters, the only one that comes down against subsidies is “core Tories” – and that it does so by a very strong margin.

The poll, in other words, would suggest Mr. Hudak’s position on this issue plays very well with his base, and not especially well with anyone else. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s another indication that more so than the other parties, the Tories’ campaign is about motivation rather than persuasion.