POLITICS

Hudak ally goes after his detractors, questions party president's leadership

09/17/2013 04:18 EDT | Updated 11/17/2013 05:12 EST
TORONTO - The infighting among Ontario's Progressive Conservatives seems to be gathering steam ahead of this weekend's party convention.

A Tory activist is accusing party president Richard Ciano of undermining Tory Leader Tim Hudak and failing the party rather than getting it ready for a possible election.

"I'm tired of everything being pointed at Tim Hudak when there's undermining and other people who have to be held accountable for what is going on inside the party," said Debbie Jodoin, who's been a member of the provincial party for a decade.

"And that would be the president, Richard Ciano."

Ciano should be backing Hudak up, not allowing him to be torn down by a motion brought forward by a few unhappy people who want to push him out, said Jodoin.

A group of Hudak detractors are putting forward a motion at the convention that would allow for a vote on his leadership.

Jodoin said she wants to add a "friendly amendment" that would also allow Ciano's presidency to be reviewed.

"If (Ciano) will let that go forward, then I think that we should review Mr. Ciano's position as president of the party," she said from Ottawa.

Ciano, who has denied that he has any leadership ambitions, wasn't immediately available for comment.

The Tory constitution only allows for a leadership review after the party is defeated in an election. Hudak received the support of 78.7 per cent of Tory delegates following the 2011 election.

But a group of 10 Conservatives from London who are unhappy with Hudak are trying to change the constitution to create a mechanism for a snap vote at a later date.

The vote could be called if a petition is signed by at least 25 per cent of the combined Tory MPPs, the party executive and riding association presidents in non-member held ridings, and at least half of them support a leadership review.

One of the 10 Tories, Arn Brown, said Hudak is a weak leader.

"The other parties would like nothing better than to engage him in an election because they think they can make good on his unpopularity," he said.

"There are people he surrounds himself with that many PC elected people and rank-and-file people have told him he needs to get rid of," Brown added. "And he won't do it."

Ciano met with the group to hear what they had to say about the motion and the motives behind it, Brown said.

But Jodoin said the party should instead be rallying behind Hudak to focus on defeating the governing Liberals in the next election, which could be triggered unexpectedly in a minority parliament.

"That's what we should be focusing on — not the infighting," she said. "And I put the infighting squarely on the president's shoulders, which is Richard Ciano."

Although she supported Ciano for president when he was elected in 2012, she said he hasn't kept his word to many grassroots members.

Riding associations aren't ready for an election, she said. Ciano wasn't around for the byelections and is handpicking candidates instead of following the usual nomination process, she added.

"He's not running the party," Jodoin said. "He's let it fail and I don't feel he's supporting our leader Tim Hudak. There's a lot of shenanigans going on and I don't see him stepping up and helping the leader at all."

She's launched an online social media campaign to support her planned amendment, said she's getting an overwhelming response from grassroots members.

But Brown said many party members aren't happy with Hudak's leadership.

Hudak has been mired in internal party strife since the Tories won only one of five byelections in August — the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Lakeshore. The NDP nabbed London West and Windsor-Tecumseh, while the Liberals held on to Scarborough-Guildwood and Ottawa South.

The Tories boasted that they'd finally made a breakthrough in Toronto, which had shut them out for 14 years.

But the party's loss in the other ridings — as well as Kitchener-Waterloo a year ago, which they'd held for 13 years — despite public discontent with the Liberals, seemed to be the final straw for some Tories.

Adding to Hudak's troubles were the recent controversies surrounding two Tory caucus members. He stripped Peter Shurman of his finance critic job over a housing allowance and demoted Randy Hillier after his email criticizing the party's support for a bill went public.

An amendment to the party's constitution requires the support of 66 per cent of the convention's delegates. Five of the 10 Tories who put it together will be attending.