LONDON, Ont. - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak shifted tactics Tuesday, moving from his war on a tax credit for new Canadians to a persistent tear in the Liberals' armour — the eHealth scandal.
"Dalton McGuinty has been looking the other way these past eight years while fancy eHealth consultants have lived limousine lifestyles," Hudak said at a campaign event in London.
"That's why we're going to have a thorough review of every one of our 630 agencies, boards and commissions."
Hudak and his party spent months hammering the Liberals over eHealth after the scandal broke three years ago, relishing in every little detail — from $10-million contracts to Liberal-friendly firms to consultants who, while making thousands of dollars a day, expensed $3.99 Choco-Bites.
The scandal, which some in the opposition parties scornfully dubbed "the gift that keeps on giving," saw $1 billion wasted over untendered contracts and expense account abuses. It also led to the resignation of then-health minister David Caplan, even though most of the abuses happened under his predecessor, George Smitherman.
The agency fired its upper management and promised to do better — despite thousands of dollars paid in severance to the departing executives.
Most recently, bureaucrats at eHealth were promised bonuses and merit raises, even though the government had implemented a wage freeze for public sector workers and was grappling with a massive deficit.
Last month, those workers filed a class-action suit to get their bonuses, which were later rescinded.
The Liberals have stood by eHealth despite the ongoing controversy, maintaining the agency had been working to rebuild and had given millions of Ontarians access to electronic medical records.
They also shot back at the Tories on Tuesday, saying Hudak himself had enjoyed some perks during his time in office, expensing Chicken McNuggets, beer, gum, a fishing licence and doughnuts while making close to $120,000 a year.
A Liberal staffer even showed up at a later event, McNuggets in hand, to further make the point.
The focus on eHealth was a shift for Hudak, who spent the first six days of the election campaign railing against a Liberal policy that would provide a subsidy to companies that hire immigrants in professions such as architecture and engineering.
It also came as two polls suggested the Tories — who went into the election campaign as the clear front-runners — were now lagging behind McGuinty's Liberals.
Asked about his success connecting with Ontarians, Hudak said he believed he was doing a good job on the campaign trail and was properly introducing himself to those who may not know a rookie leader.
"Each and every day I'm out on my bus, I think it's pretty visible who's in the bus, with a giant Tim Hudak head," said.
"It's great to have my wife Debbie and (daughter) Miller there too because at least two of the three are very attractive on the bus, I pull down the average a bit."
Hudak's tour through southwestern Ontario, now in its second day, also stopped in Chatham, where he ran into an old high school friend and signed jerseys for the man's kids.
Dr. Jody Anderson, a chiropractor who played football with Hudak in high school and also attended the University of Western Ontario with the Tory leader, was driving into Chatham with his wife to get some supplies for their kids' hockey games when he heard on the radio Hudak would be in town.
His wife tweeted Hudak to see if they could meet up, and ended up coming off the highway right behind his campaign bus.
The Tory leader let them know where he'd be and chatted with the couple before boarding his bus for one final stop in Kingsville.