North Bay's Vic Fedeli in race to become new Ont. PC leader
Vic Fedeli speaks beside a highway outside a campaign event for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Paris, Ontario on Tuesday May 20, 2014, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 24, 2014 2:32PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 24, 2014 4:18PM EDT
TORONTO -- A third candidate has joined the Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership race amid accusations they all supported Tim Hudak's campaign promise to cut 100,000 jobs, only to later blame it for the party's defeat in this year's election.
Vic Fedeli officially joined the race to replace Hudak as party leader Wednesday amid an internal party dispute over just what he and other candidates knew about the proposal ahead of the June 12 vote.
Documents provided to The Canadian Press by a source who insisted on remaining anonymous contain the controversial plan and are signed by Fedeli, Christine Elliot and Monte McNaughton. Lisa MacLeod, who is openly preparing a leadership bid, also signed.
Multiple PC sources confirmed the documents are authentic, and one said campaign workers are fed up watching the would-be leaders try to distance themselves from the controversial policy and feel they were "thrown under the bus to further leadership campaigns."
This kind of party infighting is exactly why the Tories lost four elections in a row, warned Fedeli.
"We end up fighting amongst ourselves, eating our young, beating up on ourselves instead of targeting the real problem, which is the Liberals," he said in an interview.
After the Tories lost the election, and Hudak resigned as leader, some MPPs and defeated candidates claimed they had no advance knowledge about the job cuts idea.
Fedeli, a former North Bay mayor and the PC finance critic, admitted it's his signature on the documents, which he said were a compilation of policy papers and ideas presented a year before the election, not the final platform.
Fedeli insisted he advised Hudak to drop the job cuts plan, but wouldn't say Wednesday if it was a mistake to put the idea in the party's election platform.
"We've got to stop giving people reasons to vote against us," he said. "I'm tired of having to apologize for my party, and the campaigns we run."
Several Conservatives interviewed for the story requested anonymity because they now have jobs in the private sector and said they don't want to jeopardize their employment by engaging in a public political fight.
But one senior campaign team member who also worked in Hudak's office said some members of the last election team "want to set the record straight," and accused Fedeli and his leadership rivals of "revisionist history."
Everyone had a chance to vent their anger at "blood-letting" sessions with Hudak and the campaign team after the election, said one source.
"But to use this in leadership campaigns three months later is galling to people who aren't there anymore, but who worked their butts off."
Elliott did not return calls to ask about the campaign documents, which show she wrote comments in the margins on other proposals but not on the controversial 10 per cent reduction in the size of Ontario's public service.
She has said, however, that the party must soften its approach after taking public sector unions "head on" during the election.
The documents also show McNaughton was a big fan of the job cuts plan, writing "Bold, specific number. Great," in the margin above that proposal.
"He obviously wasn't bothered by the ideas from the campaign team when he signed the document," said a PC source.
McNaughton said he still believes the size and cost of government should be reduced, but insisted what he approved by signing the document was a proposal to "transfer" 10 per cent of the public service to private sector jobs.
"Instead what we got was a promise to slash 100,000 positions from the public sector with virtually no details, or plan or explanation, so it was a poorly-developed, half-baked policy in my mind," McNaughton said in an interview.
"It speaks to what's wrong with the PC Party: MPPs were shown a draft document in secret two years before an election. It was never discussed as a group in caucus."
McNaughton has been openly critical of the "back room party elites" responsible for the election campaign and said the party has to get rid of them.
MacLeod, who is openly preparing a leadership bid, did not deny she signed the documents, but a spokeswoman said the Nepean-Carleton MPP signed off only on the energy policies in the documents that she was responsible for as party critic.
Federal Conservative MP Patrick Brown is scheduled to formally launch his campaign for the Ontario PC leadership Sunday in his Barrie riding.
One of the disgruntled Tories, who insisted they are not backing Brown, said he's the only potential leadership hopeful not involved in the fight over the election loss.
"Brown is the only one of the five who's not talking trash about the campaign, while the others will be pointing fingers at each other and debating who knew what when."
Veteran MPP Jim Wilson will be the interim PC leader until the party picks Hudak's successor in early May. Potential candidates have until the end of January to file their nomination papers.