BLIZZARD

Tories have four years of listening ahead of them

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe-Grey has been elected the PC party's interim leader. (Toronto Sun file photo)

Jim Wilson, MPP for Simcoe-Grey has been elected the PC party's interim leader. (Toronto Sun file photo)

TORONTO - 

The Ontario legislature shuffled back to life Wednesday, with MPPs sworn in at an unusual group ceremony.

Because the House has come back so quickly, there wasn’t time for them all to take the oath of office individually, as usually happens.

Instead of the usual small ceremonies, with friends and families on hand for the momentous occasion, MPPs simply stood in the legislature and duly pledged to do their bit on your behalf.

I suspect it’s a sign of how things will be in this 41st Parliament.

In a majority government, individual MPPs have very little power. They owe their allegiance to the party and its leader.

This week, it was a mass swear-in.

Next week, they’ll be trained seals, expected to applaud their leader, thump on their desks on cue and vote the way they’re told to.

Tories picked the affable Jim Wilson (Simcoe-Grey) to be their interim leader.

He was remarkably frank in his assessment of what went wrong for his party in the election.

“No criticism of past leaders,” he said. And then went on with an implicit criticism of past leaders.

“We’ve had a period — about a decade — where caucus has felt badly disenfranchised. That they haven’t had a say in major decisions,” he told reporters.

Tim Hudak, who quit as leader on Wednesday, was not in the legislature.

The promise of 100,000 civil service job cuts, Wilson said, was dropped on MPPs from a great height mid-election.

Now he wants to go back to the grassroots of the party for ideas.

“Let’s be on the side of the people of Ontario. And let’s not be attacking people,” he said.

“We’ve been attacking people for a decade. In my heart and my caucus colleagues’ hearts, we’re not that type of people. We like everybody,” he said.

“I think clearly we shot ourselves in the foot in the last election and we’ve got to stop doing that.”

It was a theme we’ve heard from many Tory MPPs over the past couple of weeks.

Leadership candidate Christine Elliott (Whitby-Oshawa) said the same thing when she threw her hat in the ring for Hudak’s job last week.

Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) made a key point about PC party membership.

“Our party membership has eroded over the years from 100,000 to 40,000,” she told reporters. “Now I’d be surprised if it’s anywhere near 10,000,” she said.

That’s a shocking assessment.

Tories have plenty of time to talk — and listen — over the next four years.

They need to have a full and vigourous debate about where they’re taking the party.

They lost nine MPPs in key ridings they could have and should have been able to hang on to.

They must be able to win back places like Cambridge, Halton and Burlington if they’re ever going to form government.

Right now, they risk becoming a rural rump if they don’t spend time to re-group and modernize.

Expect MacLeod to jump into the race soon, as well as Nipissing’s Vic Fedeli.

Numerous names have been floated at the federal level — but there’s a wrinkle that could happen at that end.

Suppose Prime Minister Stephen Harper decides to call it quits before the next federal election?

He’s led his party through some difficult years and may decide it’s time to move on and put a fresh face at the helm before the next vote.

This fall would be the latest he could do that and it would plunge the federal party into a leadership race — and remove many of the candidates for provincial leader.

Factor in the October municipal votes and it makes more sense for the Tories to have a leadership late next spring.

It will take that long at least to heal the wounds and clean up the blood on the floor.

 


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