I spent the election campaign waiting expectantly for Tim Hudak to give me a good reason to vote for the Progressive Conservatives. After the most inept and underwhelming campaign in recent memory, I finally decided to hold my nose and vote for them anyway. It's a sad state of affairs when a life-long Tory supporter like myself ends up voting against the Liberals rather than for the Conservatives. This state of affairs in Ontario has to change or the Liberals will be in power for a generation. Herewith, after much reflection, are my suggestions for Tim Hudak.
Stake out your place on the political spectrum
Stop trying to compete with the Liberals for the mushy political middle. You're a conservative: start acting like one. The right side of the ideological divide is completely empty in Ontario and there are four big-government interventionist parties competing for voters in the centre-left. People are yearning for a clear political choice - if your platform is indistinguishable from that of your opponents, why would anyone vote for you? We need a party that relentlessly advocates small government, fiscal discipline, low taxes, free-market economics and personal responsibility. The Conservatives need to be the party of the right and abandon the left to the Liberals and the NDP.
Social conservatism is a dead end
Sorry to all the socons who may be reading this, but policies aimed at social conservatives alienate the centrists and libertarians that the party needs to win elections. Hudak tossed out some policies aimed at the socon wing of the party (chain gangs for prison inmates, public sex-offender registries, "foreign workers", sex education) and walked right into the same trap that snared John Tory when he proposed tax credits for religious schools. Policies like this make the PCs look mean and narrow-minded and are political poison to a lot of voters. Matters of morality are best left to individuals and families, and heavy-handed law and order policies, especially in a time of declining crime rates, make conservatives seem heartless. Give it up.
Stop running away from Mike Harris
Hudak spent a lot of time running away from his past as a member of Mike Harris' government and laughed nervously every time the issue was raised. Huh? Lots of conservatives still support many of Harris' policies and believe that Ontario's dire financial situation needs a dose of the same medicine. Going out of your way to distance yourself from a man who won two consecutive majority governments for the PCs alienates your supporters and confirms to independent voters that you're not that different from the Liberals. Stop apologizing for the Harris legacy - explain it, own it, and be proud of it.
The media are not your friends
The established media are hostile to conservatives and have a vested interest in electing a Liberal government - don't count on them to get your message out. Ignore the CBC, CTV, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and concentrate on grass-roots politicking. Trying to suck up to the main-stream media is pointless.
I was begging for someone, anyone, in the PC party to attack McGuinty on his abysmal record of lies, failed policies, fraud and outright chicanery, and all we got was the "sneaky eco-tax" commercial with McGuinty intoning "some things will cost more". The word "Caledonia" was, to my knowledge, not mentioned once in the entire election. Dalton McGuinty is a dishonest charlatan - it's time the PCs get personal and go for the jugular. There's a lot of anger out there and people are frustrated. Tap into it!
Don't try to be hip
I can sum up the inept PC campaign in one word - "changebook". Seriously? That's the name of your policy document? I assume the brain trust that came up with that one was trying to tap into the zeitgeist and show that the PCs are down with the hip urban Facebook crowd. Look - Hudak has a Twitter feed! Look at all the "likes" he has on his Facebook page! Word to Tim Hudak - an election is not a high school cafeteria and no one except the CBC gives a damn if you've embraced social media, especially if you don't have any policies worth a tweet that are actually going to change anything. Fire your media consultants, figure out what the hell you stand for, and give people like me who are desperate for real change in Ontario something worth voting for.
The PC party did not deserve to win this election, and I hope that four years in opposition will focus the minds of the people who run the party. I'm not hopeful, though - it didn't happen after Ernie Eves or John Tory lost their respective elections, so why would it happen now?