08/14/2013 11:06 EDT | Updated 10/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Tim Hudak Leadership Review Proposal Slammed By Longtime Tory, Jim Wilson

TORONTO - Divisions within Ontario's Progressive Conservative caucus over the party's leader grew wider Wednesday as two veteran MPPs clashed over calls for Tim Hudak to submit to a leadership review next month.

Longtime Tories Jim Wilson and Frank Klees squared off in a war of words fuelled by an internal party revolt against Hudak's leadership.

Calling for Hudak to agree to a leadership review is pure sour grapes by two failed leadership candidates, said Wilson, who is Tory house leader.

"They can't accept the fact that they lost the leadership — one of them lost twice — and they just keep running that old film over again," he said.

Klees and Randy Hillier, who ran against Hudak in the 2009 leadership race, have both said that Hudak should allow his opponents to air their grievances and confront them head-on by allowing a leadership vote.

Klees and Hillier are "misguided," but shouldn't be kicked out of caucus, Wilson said.

Apart from a few individuals, everyone in caucus supports Hudak, who deserves their loyalty, he said.

Wilson also took aim at what he called a "small group" of rank-and-file party members who are pushing for the leadership review at the September convention, calling it a "sideshow" and a "distraction."

Klees said he hasn't asked for Hudak to resign or said anything negative about him. He's just standing up for the rights of the party's members to debate and vote on the request for a leadership review, he said.

Wilson's "inflammatory" statements are "pouring gasoline on a fire that shouldn't even exist," Klees said.

"I believe that my caucus colleagues who are part of the intimidation of party members, they're the ones who should do some self-examination in terms of what message they're sending to our party and to the general public," he said.

Under the party's constitution, a leadership review can only be held after an election that the party has lost. Hudak won 78.7 per cent support in February 2012, after the Tories lost the 2011 election.

But a group of about 10 Conservatives in London want to change the rules so a vote can be held at September's policy convention.

Some are upset the party took only one of five Liberal seats up for grabs in the Aug. 1 byelections, after losing the longtime Tory seat of Kitchener in a 2012 byelection and blowing a huge lead heading into the 2011 general election.

"Say someone else had won other than Tim and you were leader of the party," Wilson said.

"Would you really want 10 people to be able to call for a leadership every time you or someone around you does something that they don't like? The whole thing's ridiculous."

Wilson just doesn't get it, Klees said.

He and Hillier have said it would be a mistake for Hudak — who has flatly dismissed the call for a leadership review — to ignore disgruntled party members.

The best way to minimize the criticism is allow the resolution to be heard, discussed and voted on during the convention, so the party can move on to winning the next election, Klees said.

The attempt by Wilson and others to suppress that debate is "highly offensive" and will only create more divisions within the party, he said.

"Mr. Wilson has done more in his remarks this morning to cause alienation and polarization than anyone," Klees said.

"I think he should take a deep breath, reconsider what he's saying and how he's going about this."

Conservative operative Nick Kouvalis has also called on Hudak to submit to a vote, tweeting that the people around the leader are "incompetent."

"I want Tim to clean house and get elected," he tweeted.

He denied that he's trying to oust Hudak to allow his business partner, party president Richard Ciano, a shot at the leadership.

Ciano has said he has no interest in Hudak's job and that there's no need for a leadership review at the convention.

Hudak's supporters and critics have been duking it out over the Internet, setting up duelling Twitter accounts and websites.

Some high-profile Conservatives, such as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, have come out in defence of Hudak's leadership.

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