Making the case this morning for his policy to change Ontario’s apprenticeship rules, Tim Hudak took aim at a familiar foe.
“Special interests like the Working Families Coalition want to artificially limit the number of people that get into skilled trades because it increases their bargaining power,” the Progressive Conservative Leader said. “I get that. I think it’s wrong.”
If you’ve followed Mr. Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives at all closely in the past few years, you’ll know about their obsession with Working Families. And frankly, it’s hard to blame them for it.
An umbrella group of various unions, Working Families has given the Liberals a big advantage in the past few elections by spending millions of dollars on ads attacking the PC Leader and his predecessors. The Tories believe the organization’s campaign in the summer before the 2011 election was particularly effective at eroding their lead in the polls – or at least, that it worked well in combination with the spots the Liberals were running during that period featuring Dalton McGuinty reassuringly addressing Ontarians. The Liberals could afford to devote their own resources only toward the positive spots, the Tories argue, because the unions were doing their bidding with the negative ones.
At times, this can start to sound like they’re making excuses; few people who watched Mr. Hudak in action during his first campaign at the helm would believe union ads were the biggest reason he lost. But it was understandable that, in the run-up to the current campaign, they were braced for another onslaught.
In retrospect, though, perhaps they needn’t have fretted quite so much. Because as it turns out, Working Families never did launch a pre-writ campaign in 2014.
That’s a bit surprising, considering that Mr. Hudak is running on a more overtly anti-union agenda in this campaign than he did in the previous one. But there are a few possible explanations floating around.
One is that, not knowing if and when an election would be called, the unions just couldn’t afford to take the risk of wasting their money. A second is that, whereas in the past their messaging was more or less tailored to help re-elect the Liberals, their allegiances recently have been more divided between that party and the NDP. A third, somewhat related, is that the coalition has started to fracture a bit because of competing interests.
Whatever caused Working Families to stay quiet before the official election period, it won’t during it. Once the advertising blackout for the campaign’s first two weeks ends on May 21, the coalition can be expected to hit the airwaves hard with a wave of ads going after Mr. Hudak.
Still, that probably makes for less impact than Working Families had previously. Unlike pre-writ, commercial slots will be so overflowing with political ads in the campaign’s final weeks that it won’t be possible to score a clean hit.
That doesn’t seem to have dissuaded Mr. Hudak from invoking Working Families at every available opportunity. Perhaps he’s trying to condition reporters and the public for what’s to come, or else it owes to lingering anger about the way Working Families introduced him to voters nearly three years ago. Either way, the reality is that so far this time the group hasn’t been as much of a factor as he expected it to be.