08/08/2013 04:09 EDT | Updated 10/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Foreign Affairs Minister dismisses Hudak critics as nervous Nellies

TORONTO - Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak got some very high profile support Thursday to help fend off challenges to his leadership from within his party.

After seeing two members of Hudak's caucus openly support disgruntled party insiders who are calling for a leadership review next month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird came out swinging in Hudak's defence.

"Tim Hudak has what it takes to be a fantastic premier," Baird said in an interview from Rio de Janeiro.

Shortly after the Tories lost four of five provincial byelections last week, a group of grassroots party members filed a petition requesting a leadership review be held during a policy conference in London in late September.

Conservative MPPs Frank Klees and Randy Hillier — both of whom lost leadership bids of their own in 2009 — have warned Hudak not to ignore the party members and said he should allow a leadership review, even though it would require an amendment to the party's constitution.

"If you're afraid of what the members are going to say, what does that say about a general election and the general public," asked Klees. "The worst thing you can do is to suppress the opinion of the grass roots."

Baird dismissed the dissenters as a handful of discontents and rejected the idea of holding a leadership review.

"There may be a small number of folks who are the nervous Nellies," said Baird.

"From my perspective Tim enjoys strong support in every corner of the province. I tell you he will be the next elected premier of Ontario."

The Tories improved their vote counts in four of the five byelections last week, and even though they won only one, it was an important breakthrough for the party in the city of Toronto, added Baird.

"We weren't close in any of them in the last election, but we won our first seat in Toronto since the last century, and we came way up in three of the other seats," he said.

Baird said Hudak did all the right things to try and rebuild Tory support after losing the 2011 election, and won about 78 per cent support in the mandatory post-election leadership review.

"We had our challenges in the last election campaign. Tim hasn't played the blame game, and he has taken responsibility and has grown in the job," he said. "The party membership spoke and more than three-quarters gave their support to him."

Hudak himself was out of the country on vacation Thursday and unavailable to comment on the challenges to his leadership.