May 14, 2014 3:02 pm

Ontario election: Hudak is making himself the focus of the campaign

There is an old adage in elections that governments are defeated, not elected. This means that the focus of most contests is upon the governing, rather than the opposition parties.

If the latter perform their role appropriately, they will criticize the incumbent administration and hope to gain the support of those who have become disenchanted with the way things are being run.

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Conservative party leader Tim Hudak seems to have turned this kind of logic on its head, with his promise not only to create one million new jobs, but more controversially to cut public funding for 100,000 pre-existing positions in education and the bureaucracy, well over 10 per cent of the total.

Without getting into the merits or failings of a Mike Harris-like policy of austerity, he has turned himself and his party into the focus and potentially the target of public attention.

Instead of presenting charges of Liberal scandal and incompetence, this job elimination has seemed to become the most controversial issue of the campaign, at least in its second week.

There is precedence for this phenomenon of the opposition party becoming the centre of attention, rather than the government, but the examples from recent Ontario elections should not be heartening for the Conservatives.

In Depth: Ontario Election 2014

In 2003, Dalton McGuinty kept his head down and followed the standard playbook, by concentrating attention on Ernie Eves as the inheritor of Mike Harris’ mantle in government.

In 2007, the new Conservative leader was John Tory whose issue priority was extending the network of denominational schools in the province, and saw that controversial policy become the overarching theme of the campaign, rather than the Liberal administrative record.

In 2011, the Conservatives under Hudak started the race in first position but that lead got frittered away as a result of a combination of policy flubs such as criticism of foreign workers, and an inability of the leader to connect effectively with the public.

There has been little consistent pattern to opinion polls in the campaign’s opening weeks, but thus far it isn’t yet clear that Hudak has been able to break out beyond the previous perception of himself.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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