There's a question that Ontario Tories will invariably be asking themselves over the next few days: 'Can we win a general election with Tim Hudak as our leader?'
If Thursday's byelection results are any indication, the answer should be a resounding no.
Heading into the vote, all circumstances seemed to favour the Tories. They were up against a 10 year old tired government who has been mired in a gas plant scandal. Some analysts even suggested that the PCs could win four out of the five byelections.
But it was not to be. The Liberals and New Democrats each won two seats, while Hudak's Tories won just one — in Etobicoke-Lakeshore — on the back of their very popular local candidate, deputy Toronto Mayor Doug Holyday.
During a press conference on Friday morning, Hudak was accentuating the positive and even suggested that it's time for general election.
"Look would I have like to have won more ridings? Absolutely," he said.
"But I'm proud of the gains that we did make. I mean we broke through in Toronto. The first seat we've had here since 1999.
"We had the most votes across the province. We had the most votes in the City of Toronto. That's going to translate into big gains whenever we get around to this next election."
There's not many people — the morning after — who share in Hudak's optimism.
Hudak has not proven that he can win when it really counts. Some still blame him for not dislodging the Liberals from power despite a double-digit lead in the polls just 12 weeks before 2011 election. He's now been the loser in two sets of byelections and his personal polling numbers are the worst out of the three major party leaders.
So the next question for the Tories' is 'if not Hudak then who?'
How about a Doug?
680 News' John Stall suggests Doug Holyday or Doug Ford could be a potential replacement for Hudak.
"Despite Hudak's bravado, the Tory victory in Etobicoke-Lakeshore belongs to Doug Holyday and the Ford brothers nation of supporters. Holyday is likeable and has a proven political record as one-time mayor of Etobicoke and deputy mayor of Toronto. He is a voice of reason who keeps his head when all around are losing theirs, including the Ford brothers," he wrote in his blog.
"Holyday graciously characterized Hudak as the next premier of Ontario. I think he is more likely to become the next premier of Ontario once Hudak steps aside on his own, or is eventually pushed by a party that has really lost patience and faith in his ability to lead them to victory in a general election.
"As wild a theory as it may seen on the surface, don't be surprised to see Doug Ford follow Holyday to Queen's Park or into a leadership contest. And don't be surprised over the next four years to see one of the Dougs become premier with Rob as mayor -- which in turn could lead to reform of municipal governance structure, including a strong mayoral structure with half the number of councillors."
Political consultant Marcel Wieder, however, believes that Rob Ford's brother is making a play for Hudak's job.
"One other aspect is that with the win by Holyday the unofficial Doug Ford for leader campaign gets underway," he told Yahoo! Canada News in an email exchange.
"Ford who will now most certainly contest the Etobicoke North riding will use the Holyday victory as a springboard for his own ambitions. It is no secret that the Ford's have no time for Hudak, more importantly they want to exact some measure of revenge for the slights (real or perceived) of their father when he was an MPP in the Harris government.
"Ford believes that he can replicate the same coalition of voters that propelled his brother to the Mayor's office. The Holyday win may prove more problematic for Hudak than it may be worth."
The knives for Hudak's might not be out just yet, but they're certainly being sharpened.
(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)
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