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Mar 11, 2009, 1:39 AM
Hamilton in the running to host PC leadership convention

March 10, 2009
Daniel Nolan
The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton has a serious chance of hosting the Progressive Conservative leadership convention that will choose a successor to John Tory.

The party’s executive, headed by Stoney Creek resident Ken Zeise, is only looking at Steeltown and a few sites around Toronto for a June convention.

“It’s a good possibility,” Zeise said today. “Hamilton is one of the sites that we are familiar with because we’ve been there before. We’ve been there a couple of times, but we haven’t been there in a while. Is it a leading possibility? Sure.”

He said the party has been in contact with Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. and learned the Hamilton Convention Centre is available for June 26-28. Zeise said they have also been in contact with an official from the Sheraton hotel.

“They are being very accommodating,” he said, though he worries Hamilton might not have enough hotel rooms for delegates. “You have to book these things 12 or 14 months in advance, and here we are trying to do this in four months. It’s not easy. We’re scrambling.”

A decision on the location will be made March 22.

The Conservatives need a new leader after Tory was defeated in a byelection last Thursday in a Lindsay-area riding. The embattled leader, who did not win a Toronto seat in the 2007 general election, resigned Friday.

A Hamilton-area candidate might be in the running to succeed Tory.

Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak’s name has been mentioned ever since Tory stumbled in the 2007 election, but he told reporters at Queen’s Park it was “too early” to talk about being a candidate.

Zeise said the party’s executive decided to move quickly because it wants a new leader by Canada Day.

“We want the new leader to do the barbecue circuit and be able to put together their staff and to be ready for the resumption of the legislature in September,” he said. “We’re going to demonstrate to everyone in Ontario we’re ready to go.”

If Hamilton is selected, it will be the second leadership contest it has hosted this year. The NDP were in town this past weekend. Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath was elected their new leader.

Mar 11, 2009, 4:11 AM
Haven't had Hudak as an MPP since Fort Erie. Would be a good candidate for premier.

Mar 11, 2009, 11:23 AM
Hudak: 'Liberal-lite' doesn't work for Tories

March 11, 2009
Andrew Dreschel
The Hamilton Spectator

The local connection is tantalizing.

If Tim Hudak runs for the leadership of the Conservatives as expected, Hamilton could end up being home base to two provincial party leaders, now that Andrea Horwath holds that job for the NDP.

But even though he's already been labelled the presumed front-runner, Hudak, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook, is unwilling to commit.

"It's still very early to address that issue," he said in an interview yesterday, falling back on his line that as finance critic he's focusing on jobs and the economy prior to the March 26 Liberal budget.

What that really means is Hudak must be hectically lining up allies and organizers to put in place the necessary campaign team and financial backing to make him a serious candidate.

As much as the Conservatives are moving rapidly to elect a new leader by July 1, the fact remains they were all blindsided by the byelection defeat that last week saw John Tory step down as leader.

After almost 18 months without a seat in the legislature, everyone thought Tory was a shoo-in when MPP Laurie Scott stepped down to let him run in her rural riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock.

But the "safe seat" turned out to be a political graveyard for Tory and a setback for the Conservatives, who not only lost a leader, but a sitting MPP in the bargain.

Hudak, who campaigned in the riding for Tory, says the surprise loss leaves potential contenders with serious networking to do.

"It's still early days," Hudak says.

Maybe so, but time is quickly collapsing.

The party executive is expected to finalize leadership convention rules before the end of the month.

It's a safe bet it won't take much longer to separate the real contenders from the tire-kicking pretenders.

Besides Hudak, bandied candidates include MPP Christine Elliott, wife of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, MPP Randy Hiller, and John Yakabuski.

Whoever takes the plunge, it will be astounding if Hudak isn't in the pack.

Smooth, sharp and connected, he's long been seen as a potential leader in waiting.

That fact that the time may be upon him sooner than expected plays to his strengths.

At 41 years of age, he's young but deeply experienced.

First elected in 1995 when he was 27, he was minister of Northern Development and Mines and later minister of Culture and Tourism in the Harris government,

Under Premier Ernie Eves, he was minister of Consumer and Business Services.

Before entering politics, he worked in the EcDev and tourism department in his hometown of Fort Erie and, briefly, as a Wal-Mart manager, helping rebrand the old Woolco chain.

Hudak also worked as a Canada Customs inspector to put himself through school where he studied economics at the University of Western Ontario and at the University of Washington in Seattle on a scholarship.

His connections include marriage to Deborah Hutton, former chief aide to premier Mike Harris and, until recently, vice-president of corporate communications with Canwest Global.

Though he's playing his leadership cards close, Hudak makes no secret about which direction he wants the Conservatives to go.

To be successful, the party has to offer a real alternative to the Liberals, Hudak says.

Being "Liberal-lite" doesn't work.

"My belief has always been that when we stand on our Conservative principles and communicate them clearly and straight, we're rewarded by voters."

The challenge, he says, is applying those principles of lower taxes, entrepreneurship and supporting the family to the new conditions of 2009.

Mar 22, 2009, 8:08 PM
Ontario Tories to choose new leader in June

The Canadian Press
March 22, 2009 at 3:32 PM EDT

TORONTO — Ontario's Progressive Conservatives will choose a new leader in June at a convention in Markham, north of Toronto.

Party president Ken Zeise confirmed the date and location following a five-hour meeting with the party executive.

The rules of the leadership battle were also expected to be finalized today by the party's executive, effectively firing off the starting pistol in the race to succeed John Tory.

But controversy is already brewing over the date of the leadership convention.

The party executive wants to select a new leader before July, but many Conservatives sitting in the provincial legislature — including Elizabeth Witmer, Frank Klees and Randy Hillier — want a longer race.

Ms. Witmer, who decided Friday not to take another run at the leadership, said candidates need more time to build both a platform and expand the party's base.

“I think that is absolutely critical,” Ms. Witmer said in a recent interview. “We have to enlarge the tent.”

It will also be difficult for any sitting Conservative to juggle a province-wide leadership race with their duties in the legislature, said Mr. Klees.

“We have a small caucus. There are responsibilities here in the legislature,” Mr. Klees, who serves as caucus chairman, said Friday.

“And to have potential candidates either not in the house or handicapped to what essentially will be seven weekends to campaign across the province — in my opinion and, I might add, in the opinion of a number of other caucus members — is not a fair process.”

Tim Hudak, Christine Elliott, Mr. Hillier and Mr. Klees are among the elected provincial Conservatives who are considering a bid for the top job.

The job came open when Tory announced he would step down following a by-election defeat earlier this month in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock. Mr. Tory had been without a seat in the legislature since the October 2007 provincial election, which fuelled dissent over his ability to lead the party.

A few federal ministers are rumoured to be testing the waters for a jump to the provincial party, including Human Resources Minister Diane Finley and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan.

Aides to both Ms. Finley and Mr. Van Loan — a past president of the Ontario party — have down-played speculation that either minister is looking to jump into provincial politics.

“While Minister Finley is very flattered by the suggestion, she herself has said that her only priority right now is to the Conservative government as Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development to help deliver Canada's Economic Action Plan,” said Julie Vaux, a spokeswoman for Finley.

“The minister believes it is essential that people receive the support they need quickly in these difficult economic times.”

Interim provincial leader Bob Runciman said the party's rank-and-file would be “uncomfortable” with a leader who doesn't already have a seat in the legislature.

“You can't, I guess, close the door on that as a possibility,” he said Friday.

“But I think it would be a challenge for anyone to overcome those concerns within the party, given what's happened over the past year-and-a-half.”

There are already signs that the leadership race may end up becoming an ideological battle for control of the party.

Much of the right-wing support seems to be swinging towards Mr. Hudak, who has reportedly received the blessing of former premier Mike Harris — a hero to the party's most devout conservatives.

Mr. Hudak, the party's finance critic, served in Mr. Harris's cabinet and is married to his former chief of staff, Deb Hutton. He has remained tight lipped about his plans, but has hinted that any announcement would come after the March 26 budget.

Much of the rural vote — a historic base of support for the provincial party — might be siphoned off by outspoken rookie Randy Hillier if he throws his hat in the ring.

It's unclear who might win support from the party's more centrist “Red Tories,” whose influence may be waning after Tory's unsuccessful run as leader.

Christine Elliott, who is married to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, seems to be positioning herself as the candidate with the biggest tent.

A self-described “consensus builder,” the lawyer and mother of triplet sons has spoken of the need to pull the party together ahead of the next provincial election in 2011.

Both Mr. Tory and Mr. Runciman have said they will remain neutral in the race.

Mar 23, 2009, 3:59 PM
Hamilton's future stalled by unfilled promises

March 23, 2009
Joan Walters
The Hamilton Spectator
(Mar 23, 2009)
It was only 16 months ago that cabinet ministers criss-crossed Ontario doling out billions of dollars in pre-election goodies to fuel what Liberals promised would be a period of renewed prosperity.

In a campaign stop in Steeltown, then finance minister Greg Sorbara pledged that "this decade belongs to Hamilton." He promised four years of balanced budgets, and innovative spending to capture the opportunities of a new century.

This Thursday's budget will report a deficit of $18 billion the next two years, a record sum that shows the scope of Ontario's excruciating reversal of fortune. The spiral began just as the Liberals won their second majority in the fall of 2007. That's when the global economy first started showing cracks.

Critics say that since he re-took office, Premier Dalton McGuinty has flailed without purpose in the wake of layoffs, shutdowns and other carnage from the worst recession since at least the 1990s.

"Despite all the warning signs from experts and economists, the McGuinty Liberals chose to spend recklessly in times of prosperity and made no preparations for the coming economic storm," said Tory Tim Hudak, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook.

"Once it hit, the Liberals did little to soften the blow to Ontario's families and business," said Hudak.

Sorbara -- party godfather, election architect, and one of the Liberals' few deeply experienced financial hands -- shocked caucus when he declined to stay in cabinet after the election, to have more family time. He's still an MPP.

The resulting cabinet capability gap opens McGuinty to criticism he has no one experienced enough to handle a recession of this scope.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan -- who presents the budget on Thursday -- is the former administrator of a large drug and alcohol recovery centre, and a former Windsor councillor. Supporters say his MBA, an economics degree and cabinet posts in finance and the management board prepare him as well as anyone for all this.

Many problems are not in Ontario's direct control and Duncan says "the perfect storm we are living today has been brewing for some time." Experts say governments should deal with wreckage from the recession as it occurs.

"You have to think about what's happened in the last three or four months almost as a natural disaster," says Marvin Ryder of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University. "What are we going to do for the people affected by this ... job retraining, planning for what the social costs will be through welfare, unemployment, those sorts of things. And then steps to turn back the disaster ... to improve the state of the economy."

Duncan's budget will unquestionably contain stimulus funds, through infrastructure and other projects, along with programs to boost consumer confidence. One possibility is a widely discussed scrappage fee of $3,500, to spur owners of old cars to buy new ones.

But in Ontario -- as in many North American jurisdictions with an industrial base -- there is a more insidious, general destabilization, which is difficult to address: rampant unemployment, sliding wealth and the immobilization of whole industries at a time. U.S. Steel's indefinite shutdown of Hamilton operations is the result of worldwide contraction in demand.

Adding to Ontario's woes are its reliance on the collapsing auto industry and a corporate sector threatened by backlash from the ongoing U.S. financial meltdown.

The January federal budget set out a $40-billion stimulus plan. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canada will not emerge from the recession until the U.S. financial system is fixed.

To Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, the greatest need is to start transforming Ontario's hemorrhaging industrial base.

"The reality is we have a great industrial infrastructure in this province and I fear the government doesn't see the value of that," says Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP.

Horwath wants the budget to address "how do we transition our economy into the products of the future." Industries unable to stay afloat with traditional lines of business should get aid to make other wanted goods, she says.

"We might not be building the same products, but we would be using that infrastructure to build new ones, whether it's solar panels or the components for light rail."

Industrial job losses are staggering. In Hamilton they rose to 33,000 in February, up about 2,000 from January. The city's jobless rate is 8.4 per cent. The St. Catharines-Niagara region has one the highest rates in Canada, at 9.5 per cent.

Harper says Canada's jobless rate -- now 7.7 per cent -- will rise in the next few months. The Liberals will be expected to address general joblessness in their budget as well.

But there is no answer yet on whether Ontario will address its own employee ranks. In contrast to the tens of thousands affected in the private sector, there has been no significant retrenchment in the Ontario Public Service -- a massive group that works for the province.

Duncan has said labour stability is important and that " having public servants still being adequately paid ... will yield benefits."

"Those folks, they will go shopping, they will spend their money, they will invest it," he says.

The only model for public sector cuts is from the 1990s, when the Bob Rae government asked for $2 billion in wage cuts from public sector unions. The move by the NDP so enraged employees that they refused to co-operate and boycotted all talks.

In the end, so-called "Rae Days," days without pay, were implemented unilaterally.




Mar 23, 2009, 4:10 PM
PCs' convention date good for Hudak

March 23, 2009
Robert Benzie
Toronto Star; With files from The Canadian Press
TORONTO (Mar 23, 2009)
The Progressive Conservatives will choose their new leader June 27 in Markham. Hamilton had been one of the cities under consideration for the convention.

Party officials yesterday confirmed that retired leader John Tory's successor would be in place in time for the summer barbecue circuit, rejecting pleas to delay the convention until September.

"The executive stayed firm," PC president Ken Zeise said following a gruelling five-hour closed-door meeting in Toronto. "We've been under intense lobbying over the past few weeks."

With the next provincial election to be held in October 2011, Zeise said, the party could ill afford to delay having a leader in place till fall.

"We'd be eating into time the new leader, whoever he or she is, will need to prepare."

While no candidates have officially launched campaigns, there are three serious contenders.

The June convention could be advantageous to presumed front-runner MPP Tim Hudak (Niagara West-Glanbrook), widely acknowledged to be ahead in terms of fundraising, organization, and support.

Much of the right-wing support seems to be swinging toward Hudak, who has reportedly received the blessing of former premier Mike Harris. Hudak, the party's finance critic, served in Harris's cabinet and is married to his former chief of staff, Deb Hutton. He has remained tight-lipped about his plans, but has hinted that any announcement would come after the March 26 budget.

His two expected rivals, MPP Christine Elliott (Whitby-Ajax) and MPP Randy Hillier (Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington), should still have ample time to raise money and sell party memberships.

Candidates will have to pay $50,000 to enter the contest and will be limited to spending $750,000, though there is no cap on fundraising.

That's because the party will collect a 20 per cent tithe of all money raised during the leadership.

The race will be decided using a one-member-one-vote system with Tories casting preferential ballots in all 107 Ontario ridings on June 21 and June 25.

Ballot boxes will be sealed and opened in Markham on June 27. Riding association presidents from the 107 constituencies will then read aloud the tabulated results in a move designed to give the event the excitement of a U.S. presidential nominating convention.

"We want to be able to present the party in a way the public can tune in on TV or on a special website," said Zeise.

The advance voting should also prevent a reprise of the 2004 leadership convention fiasco, which saw Tory's victorious second ballot not tallied until after midnight due to communication breakdowns in outlying ridings.

Candidates must be nominated by April 17 and they have until May 14 to sell party memberships.

Yesterday's meeting was not without controversy as Conservative caucus members sparred over convention timing.

MPPs Frank Klees (Newmarket-Aurora) and Peter Shurman (Thornhill) argued forcefully against a June vote, saying would-be candidates need more time to get organized.

Four of their caucus colleagues -- MPPs Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton), Ted Chudleigh (Halton), Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North) and John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) -- insisted the party needed its new leader in office by Canada Day.

The Conservatives were plunged into the search for a new leader on March 5 when Tory lost a stunning byelection upset in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock to Liberal Rick Johnson.


Apr 1, 2009, 12:55 PM
Hudak sets sights on PC leadership

Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP to announce Thursday
April 01, 2009
The Canadian Press

The race to replace John Tory as leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives will expand to three candidates tomorrow when Tim Hudak formally announces his campaign, The Canadian Press has learned.

Hudak will launch his leadership bid with a news conference at the Ontario legislature and then hold an event tomorrow night for supporters in his Niagara West-Glanbrook riding, sources said.

Hudak, 41, the party's finance critic, will have about 12 of the 24 Tory caucus members on hand to show their support when he launches his campaign.

"He's got a pretty good chunk of caucus support, which we're very happy about," said one source with Hudak's campaign.

Fellow caucus members Frank Klees and Randy Hillier have already announced their intentions to try to succeed Tory as leader of the PC party.

Christine Elliott, the wife of federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, has also been testing the waters for her own possible run for the party leadership.