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On Wednesday morning, little more than two weeks after Vic Fedeli had been named Tim Hudak's finance critic, a glossy four-page newsletter and accompanying package of spreadsheets landed on the desks of Queen's Park reporters.
Devoted to debunking the notion that Ontario's governing Liberals successfully implemented a public-sector wage freeze, "Volume 1: Number 1" of "Fedeli Focus on Finance" could hardly be called wholly objective. But while some of the information was oversimplified and other bits arguably a reach, it was a professional piece of work that offered an indication of how diligently Mr. Fedeli intends to approach his new role.
Beyond that, it was the latest indication of the increased bench strength that is making it a little easier for Mr. Hudak's Progressive Conservatives to hound the Liberals, and to present themselves as something approximating a government-in-waiting.
Prior to the provincial election two years ago, a common complaint among Tory backroom types was that there were few people in their caucus who could help Mr. Hudak carry the load. Their party had lost seats in three consecutive elections, and most of the top performers from the Mike Harris era had moved on, leaving it largely with long-time backbenchers who had managed to hold into their ridings. Other than Ottawa MPP Lisa MacLeod, who after being elected in 2007 established herself as a strong (if sometimes over-the-top) communicator, there was very little promising new blood.
The Tories exerted much effort to recruit candidates for the 2011 campaign who could provide them with more depth; alas, many of them were in suburban ridings from which they were mostly shut out. But enough still made it to Queen's Park to breathe some new life into the caucus and to give it some heft.
Mr. Fedeli, a 57-year-old former North Bay mayor, is probably the best example of that. An affable retail politician praised by fellow Tories for working hard and being a team player, he also seems capable of wrapping his mind around complex policy files – an ability that served him well as his party's energy critic. Now in the opposition's top shadow-cabinet post, he is already easier to picture as a potential finance minister than his blustery predecessor Peter Shurman.
While considerably more green, several younger rookies have brought enough energy to their jobs to earn some time in the spotlight. That includes Monte McNaughton, an almost unnervingly earnest small-town MPP from Southwestern Ontario recently promoted to replace renegade Randy Hillier as the Tories' labour critic; Rob Leone, a sturdy if unflashy former academic who recently became education critic; Todd Smith, a former minor-league hockey announcer from Belleville who has wound up leading outreach efforts to immigrant-heavy communities in the Greater Toronto Area; and Steve Clark, a former Brockville mayor who came to Queen's Park slightly earlier, in a 2010 by-election, and now serves as community safety critic and deputy house leader.
There has also been one very notable (if decidedly less youthful) addition since that last election, in the form of former Toronto deputy mayor Doug Holyday. While the Tories seem almost comically enamoured with their first MPP to be elected in the city since the 1990s – their recent convention featured Warhol-style posters, of the sort Barack Obama used, with the septuagenarian's face and the word "Toronto" – he joins Mr. Fedeli in lending a degree of gravitas that was previously lacking.
It is debatable how much any of this will matter in the election likely to happen next spring, given the extent to which modern campaigns are focused on party leaders to the exclusion of everyone else. But given Mr. Hudak's less-than-stellar personal numbers, it might be helpful to be able to claim a strong team around him. And even if not, there are a few other advantages.
For one thing, the ability to have others speak on their party's behalf has Mr. Hudak spending less time as his own party's attack dog. He has managed, for instance, to almost entirely avoid turning up on television snarling about the government's gas-plants scandal, which could reinforce impressions that he's too angry and negative.
It also helps organizationally. Several of the newer MPPs have been spending lots of time on fundraising, which remains one of the Tories' big challenges. And those from reasonably safe ridings can spend time lending a hand to candidates in ones their party is seeking to pick up.
And if nothing else, the more able critics they have, the more they will be able to keep the Liberals on the defensive. Granted, the first edition of Fedeli Focus on Finance did not exactly bring the government down. But for the Tories, it was a promising sign of what's to come in the months ahead.
Adam Radwanski is The Globe's columnist covering Ontario politics.