TORONTO - One week after losing the Ontario election, Tim Hudak told his caucus Wednesday he will officially step down as Progressive Conservative leader July 2, the day the legislature returns under a Liberal majority government, The Canadian Press has learned.
The news agency obtained a copy of a letter Hudak sent Wednesday to surviving PC caucus members confirming he would resign as leader in two weeks "for the good of the party" and the good of his family.
"This will give the caucus an opportunity to select an interim leader as the legislative session begins," wrote Hudak.
The letter came just two days after a difficult post-election meeting Monday between Hudak and Conservatives who were re-elected and some who lost their seats, with a few saying he should be prepared to accept responsibility for losing another election and resign immediately.
"This was an anti-Tim Hudak election," Belleville-area MPP Todd Smith said Monday as he called on Hudak to resign.
However, a party insider speaking on background Wednesday evening, said a "significant portion" of the caucus wanted Hudak to stay on for up to a year or more while the Tories hold a leadership race and schedule a convention, but he didn't want to stick around that long.
"It is clear there is a lack of consensus in caucus as to the best way forward," Hudak said in the letter.
Hudak's chief of staff, Ian Robertson, said Wednesday that some in caucus want to modify the party's core campaign message about the urgent need for fiscal restraint because of a $12.5 billion deficit and record debt that eats up $11 billion a year in interest charges, but Hudak disagreed with that approach.
"Tim wanted to remain consistent," said Robertson.
Hudak expressed his frustration about attempts to water down the message he'd just spent six weeks telling Ontarians was vital to getting the province back on the right fiscal track.
"Some held the view that the urgent need to address Ontario's fiscal situation should be moderated, while others remain firmly committed in the belief that the course we laid out in the campaign will ultimately be proven right," he said in the letter.
"I am proud of what our party accomplished, the choices we laid out, and I am optimistic about our party's future."
Many Tory MPPs had complained they were not told about the proposal to cut 100,000 public sector jobs until hours before Hudak announced it in the first week of the campaign, grabbing headlines but arming public sector unions with ammunition for a series of attack ads that saturated TV and radio.
After he lost the election last Thursday, Hudak announced he would not lead the Conservatives into the next election, but would remain the MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook.
Hudak knew he would not be able to stay on after the Liberals trounced the Tories so badly they won a majority after struggling for three years as a minority government, and after he also blew a big lead in public opinion polls heading into the 2011 election.
With the Liberals struggling under the weight of the $1.1 billion gas plants scandal and two police investigations - one into deleted gas plant documents and another into irregularities at the province's Ornge air ambulance service - many Conservatives felt Hudak should have talked less in the 2014 campaign about cutting the size of government and more about the Liberal record.
No one has openly admitted to preparing a leadership bid yet, but some of the more prominent names being talked about include deputy PC Leader Christine Elliott, the widow of former finance minister Jim Flaherty; finance critic Vic Fedeli, the former mayor of North Bay; Lisa MacLeod, the party's outspoken energy critic; as well as federal cabinet ministers Lisa Raitt and Tony Clement.
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