01/27/2015 01:42 EST | Updated 01/28/2015 01:59 EST

Tim Hudak's Million Jobs Plan Surfaces In Ontario PC Leadership Race

A jobs plan that may have doomed Ontario Progressive Conservatives last spring could now become a key issue in that party’s race to find a new leader.

On Monday, presumed PC leadership front-runner Christine Elliott faced sharp criticism from rival and federal Conservative MP Patrick Brown over her support of former leader Tim Hudak’s “Million Jobs Plan,” unveiled during the last provincial election.

Elliott served as her party’s deputy leader when Hudak pledged to cut 100,000 public sector jobs in four years to help slay Ontario’s deficit. But shortly after the election, in which Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals captured a majority government and the PCs lost nine seats, Tory MPPs told reporters they didn’t know in advance about the controversial plan. Senior officials in the party disputed that claim, according to The Canadian Press.

At a debate in London, Ont., Brown — a 36-year-old who has made his outsider status at Queen’s Park a key part of his campaign — drew some boos by suggesting voters rejected not only Hudak, but Elliott.

“They didn’t just look at Tim Hudak but they looked at the establishment in our party,” he said. “They looked at you Christine, as deputy leader, standing shoulder to shoulder with Tim Hudak and the 100,000 job cuts.”

Elliott shot back by saying it was a “myth” that she knew of the job cuts before the election.

“Let me say categorically that neither me nor any of my caucus colleagues had any knowledge of it, and that’s why our party needs to change,” she said.

But even if Elliott did not know of Hudak’s plan, she nonetheless served as a key spokesperson.

A week after the PC platform was announced, Elliott unveiled an ad, entitled “Hope,” touting the merits of the plan. Unfortunately, the commercial — much like the PC platform — is no longer available online.

“The Million Jobs Plan is about pointing forward to a better, brighter future – and not about pointing fingers at others,” she said at a press conference at the time, according to a media release.

Elliott also slammed Wynne’s “angry” campaign, accusing her of personal attacks on Hudak and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“Kathleen Wynne’s negativity will never put anyone back to work,” Elliott said. “Our Million Jobs Plan will.”

But at least one Ontario Liberal has also tried to draw a link between Brown and Hudak’s policy.

Rebecca MacKenzie, executive director of communications in the premier’s office, has twice shared a picture online of Brown shaking Hudak’s hand shortly after the former PC leader unveiled his platform in Barrie last year.

Brown has represented the riding federally since 2006 and was in the audience when Hudak first dropped the bombshell that he would slash 100,000 public sector jobs, including those belonging to teachers, as part of a plan to create one million private sector jobs.

The platform, which sparked fierce backlash from public sector unions, was also criticized after several economists said its projected job numbers were miscalculated by a factor of eight.

Polls have consistently put Elliott well ahead of Brown and three other MPPs in the race: Lisa MacLeod, Vic Fedeli, and Monte McNaughton.

Last week, former Toronto mayoral candidate and city councillor Doug Ford — who mulled running for the leadership — endorsed Elliott. His infamous brother, Rob, is backing McNaughton.

Ontario Tories will choose their new leader in May by a preferential balloting system, in which supporters will also pick their second, third, fourth, and fifth choices as they vote for their preferred candidate. Leadership hopefuls who fail to get 10 per cent of the vote are eliminated and their supporters’ votes are reallocated to their other choices until a winner achieves a clear 50-per-cent-plus-one majority.

With files from The Canadian Press

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