THE BLOG
09/23/2011 12:26 EDT | Updated 11/23/2011 05:12 EST

Time for Ontario Conservatives to Attack

Simply put, voters just don't know Tim Hudak. If you don't assign yourself a role in the play, you leave the door open for others to assign one for you. Liberals are defining the PC leader as a Tea Party-loving, immigrant-hating, right-wing extremist, who will gut our health care and shut down our public schools.

Military strategists like to say no plan survives contact with the enemy.

The same is true in politics.

Political tactics must always be modified and adapted.

Case in point is the election plan for Ontario's Progressive Conservative Party.

Going into the provincial election the PCs had a simple strategy, which can be summed as follows: Keep reminding voters that PC leader Tim Hudak is not Premier Dalton McGuinty.

And given that McGuinty was unpopular, this basic and simple strategy was a good idea.

Polls consistently showed voters wanted change.

But then the Liberals launched a counter-attack, zeroing in on the PC Party's biggest vulnerability -- Tim Hudak.

What makes Hudak vulnerable?

The answer is that while the Tories did a good job of telling voters who he isn't (i.e. McGuinty), they didn't really explain who he is and what he stands for.

It's an omission which could hurt them at the polls.

I say that because an election is a lot like theatre; every political actor should have an assigned role to play on the stage.

Politicians take on the part of a "successful businessman" or a "tax fighter" or a "champion for the little guy."

But Hudak's part in Ontario's political drama is ill-defined.

Is he a right-wing conservative or a moderate Red Tory; will he slash government spending or adopt a Liberal-style fiscal agenda; is he pro or anti-establishment?

Simply put, voters just don't know Tim Hudak.

And for the Tories this is a major problem because the golden rule of politics is define or be defined.

In other words, if a political candidate leaves any gaps in his public profile, his opponents will do all they can to fill in the blanks as unflatteringly as possible.

If you don't assign yourself a role in the play, you leave the door open for others to assign one for you.

This is what happened in the last two federal elections. The federal Conservatives successfully defined former Liberal leader Stephane Dion as a tax-loving "wimp," and his successor Michael Ignatieff as an arrogant professor who was "just visiting."

It was an image neither Liberal leader could shake.

Now the provincial Liberals are giving Hudak the same treatment.

They are defining the PC leader as a Tea Party-loving, immigrant-hating, right-wing extremist, who will gut our health care and shut down our public schools.

Scary stuff!

Of course, whether or not these charges are actually true is beside the point. If the Liberals say it often forcefully enough it will stick.

In fact, polls show Tory support is now slipping.

And the complexion of the race is also shifting. It's no longer about "change" but about which leader best represents Ontario's "values."

This doesn't mean the PCs will lose, it just means they must now adjust their strategy.

In short, Hudak will have to do more than just travel around the province saying "I am not Dalton McGuinty."

Nor can he spend any time defending himself from Liberal attacks, as this will only take him off message.

As they say in politics, "if you're denying, you're dying."

So what can the Tories do?

Well, the fact is, the PCs really only have one option: they must respond to Liberal attacks with even more aggressive attacks of their own.

The equation is simple: If they can't build up Hudak's poll numbers, they must tear down McGuinty's.

And with his record of massive deficits, scandals and unpopular taxes, McGuinty certainly offers a target rich environment.

So buckle your seat belts, a new phase in Ontario's political war is about to begin and it won't be pretty.