Allan Gregg tells a great anecdote, one that explains why the least popular guy is presently ahead in the Ontario provincial election campaign.
It’s all about authenticity, the talented former Progressive Conservative strategist says: “For most of my adult life, I have worked with political and business leaders and have never ceased to be amazed at how different they can be in private compared to their public personae.
“Time and time again, I have witnessed otherwise funny, thoughtful, caring men and women walk from the wings of the auditorium to the podium, only to be transformed into nothing less than a big, blustering bullshitter – in effect, offering up a ‘performance’ and a caricature they think they should be playing.”
These political performers favour exaggerated claims about their opponents, Gregg says. They feign outrage. They take too much credit. And – this is the kicker – they carefully avoid “any direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.”
Which brings us to Tim Hudak, leader of the PCs in Ontario. Some polls say he is doing not badly. But some say he is winning, and winning big. This, despite the fact that selfsame polls previously showed him to be the least popular choice for premier.
Hudak is the embodiment of Gregg’s aphorism. In person, the PC leader is a highly likeable, friendly person. But when a microphone is placed before him, he becomes robotic. And it’s why so many Ontarians haven’t warmed up to Hudak – he was seen as inauthentic. He was reciting talking points written by someone else.
Well, the first two weeks of the Ontario campaign fully contradicts Allan Gregg’s wisdom. Hudak is still too stiff and too awkward on the hustings. But, if the polling firm Ipsos is to be believed, he is way, way ahead.
According to the last couple of Ipsos polls, Hudak’s support is growing – while that of his Liberal and New Democrat rivals is shrinking, in some places dramatically. The latest Ipsos offering pegs Hudak’s party at 39%, with the governing Liberals almost a full 10 points back – and the New Democrats even further behind, at 24%. If Tim Hudak is still stiff, awkward and therefore inauthentic, why is that happening?
Because of the other part of Gregg’s observation, that’s why. The part about “direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.” And that is precisely what Hudak has done, with his announced plan to cut 100,000 positions in the broader Ontario public service.
Given the fact that many of those who will be losing their jobs are teachers – and given that lots of public services will disappear, too – Hudak’s plan has attracted no small amount of criticism. Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, who is advised by the same inept gang who cooked up Paul Martin’s “soldiers in our streets” ads in the 2006 federal campaign, has been most critical. She has declared that Hudak’s plan will cause a “recession”– and, while in Walkerton, warned of the consequences of deep job cuts.
Hudak, meanwhile, remains unfazed and well ahead. He may never be seen as the most “authentic” politician, true. But he’s the one presently engaged in “direct and honest engagement of difficult subject matter that has the potential to cause media controversy.”
And he’s winning because of it.