By Mike Williscraft
As surely as the sun has risen the last 21-plus years MPP Tim Hudak has gone about his work representing his constituents.
Friday, Sept. 16, the sun, as it has been known to do will set, and Hudak will take that opportunity to ride off into it.
Hudak, who was first elected to Queen’s Park representing the Niagara South Riding in 1995 – taking on the leadership of the Ontario PC Party in 2009 – announced last month he would resign his seat to take a chief executive officer position with the Ontario Real Estate Board.
He didn’t start out as a reluctant MPP, but he certainly was a surprised one, when he won his first election.
“I thought I would take one for the team and hopefully get a job as a policy advisor,” said Hudak, as he relaxed over a coffee.
“I never thought I would win. I was on the outside, kind of an anti-establishment candidate. Once I got in, my plan was to work my tail off and deliver on programs for my riding.”
That effort had him positioned for a leadership run in 2002 when Mike Harris retired, but he opted to keep his powder dry.
“I was better positioned for down the road so I took a senior position in Jim Flaherty’s team. I liked him. He had great principles and personality,” said Hudak of the late PC leader.
In 2009, it was his time.
“That was a major change. You go from dealing with a staff of 4-5 to 80. It is an incredibly demanding schedule. It was a blur, really,” said Hudak, as he stood up to recognize an old classmate. Chris Mindorff is co-owner of Station One Coffeehouse and he has known Hudak since Grade 1.
Resuming the conversation, Hudak said, without skipping a beat, “Being leader, you are under intense scrutiny. You have to watch every little thing you say because it can set off a wildfire. Whether it is the media, a back-channel comment or a whisper, you feel like a hamster on a wheel.”
With the career high of being leader, and the intensity which came along with it, so too came the lows.
“In 2011 I thought we ran a very good campaign. I still believe in what we did. We won more seats, but not enough. The other guy (Dalton McGuinty) was bad, but we didn’t put enough in the window,” said Hudak.
In 2014, he was ready for the next level.
“In Grimsby on election night, I really thought we were going to win. The vote was similar to 2011, but the Liberals number of seats went up.
“That was my lowest point, losing, largely because it was a surprise. That was tough.”
His intention at that point was step down as leader, but remain as Niagara West Glanbrook’s MPP. Although he never intended to be a “lifer”, he also did not see the end of his political career in the near future.
But circumstances change.
“Some leaders step down, but don’t do anything. Some think about being a lobbyist, but I didn’t like the idea of having so many different masters.
Then there are the industry associations and private sector, corporate affairs,” noted Hudak.
Then there was a knock at the door.
“It was the right place, right time,” said Hudak of the Ontario Real Estate Board opportunity.
“I was contacted by a head hunter in June and the interview process went through the summer. I also happened to have a couple of staff who already worked there. I really like the energy and dynamics of the place.”
With the ups and downs of 20 years of provincial politics, Hudak can wrap up his parting suggestion for change in one sentence.
“MPPs need more independence,” he said.
“They are too handcuffed to toe the party line. In the United Kingdom they vote against their party all the time and nobody bats an eye.”
While Hudak may have been the frontman, he knows full well he could not have had the success he did without a great support system both at home and in his office.
“I met (future wife) Deb back when she was an advisor for Mike Harris. I thought she was really smart and really hot. I thought I was all cool and flirty. She doesn’t even remember that,” said Hudak, noting he later proposed to her at a Morocco street market.
“She is a great advisor. If my ego got too inflated, she was able to pop it.”
With family additions of two daughters – Maitland and Miller – another aspect of a need for leadership has arisen.
“Miller didn’t really have the ‘terrible two’s’ but Maitland has it twice as bad,” he laughed.
“It will be great to take the kids to swimming, ball, or whatever, all the things I missed before.”
As well, Hudak voiced his deep appreciation for his staff.
“My staff are second to none, I could not have done it without them.”