By Kevin Werner
After a second surprising defeat within three years to the Liberals, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak announced he is resigning as party leader.
“I will not be leading the Ontario PC party in the next election,” Hudak told a small crowd at the Mountain Ridge Community Center in Grimsby, as his wife Deb Hutton stood nearby. “I will meet with caucus, the party executive in the coming days to begin the process of selecting a new leader.”
The somber crowd called out in disappointment to Hudak’s announcement, even as they understood the decision in the wake of the surprising defeat.
Hudak steps down after the Tories saw their seat total diminish by 10, from 37 to 27, a shocking result that left the estimated 120 people comforting each other, and wondering about how the Liberals had won the vote. The Liberals won a majority government with 59 seats, while the NDP held steady with 21.
Hudak will remain the MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook after easily holding off Liberal candidate David Mossey 21,446 votes to 14,067 votes. The NDP candidate, Brian McComack, collected 11,242 votes.
Hudak was elected party leader in 2009, nearly five years ago to the day. He first became an MPP for the former riding of Niagara South in the 1995 election during the Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution wave.
Hudak, 46, remained upbeat during his concession speech, saying he talked to Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, and congratulated NDP leader Andrea Horwath. But he refused to blame his party’s message for the results, instead telling the crowd they ran a “campaign of hope.”
“Ontario faces real economic and fiscal challenges and they won’t go away just because the election campaign has ended,” said Hudak. “We have put important issues on the public agenda, especially job creation and affordable government. I’m immensely and will forever be proud of the campaign we ran and a clear vision of hope that we put before the great Province of Ontario.”
Hudak’s local campaign manager, Tony Kamphuis, had mixed feelings on the night. While applauding that Hudak will be returning to Queen’s Park as a MPP for the riding, the veteran politician returns to a decidedly changed Queen’s Park.
“I didn’t see this result coming,” said Kamphuis. “To see a Liberal majority. Really? It’s disappointing for sure.”
Even more sad, said Kamphuis is his friend took the honourable way out and resigned.
“It was understandable,” said Kamphuis. “He had two kicks at the can. I wish he kept going.”
Three years ago Hudak lead his party to another embarrassing loss after the Tories were leading most of the way during the campaign, but ended up with only 37 seats in the 107-seat legislature. The Liberals captured 53, one short of a majority, and the NDP scooped up 17 seats. At the time, Hudak had to face the media and supporters in the cavernous Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls in 2011, in a riding that was won by Liberal MPP Kim Craitor.
After the result, Tory party faithful did throw its support behind Hudak as leader during its leadership review, but there has been some grumbling over the last couple of years of his ability to lead the party to a majority government.
“People around here really respond to Tim,” said Kamphuis. “They obviously like the guy a great deal, but across the province it’s stunning to me. He’s got a great message. Apparently, not one the rest of Ontario was ready for.”