It is something of a motley crew, the one that Tim Hudak is assembling.
A veteran newspaper columnist, Randall Denley, who on several occasions criticized the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader in print. A failed mayoral candidate, Rocco Rossi, who was previously the national director of the Liberal Party of Canada. An anti-tax crusader, Kevin Gaudet, who earlier this year lamented that this country has not experienced a Wisconsin-style war against public-sector unions.
But say this for Mr. Hudak: He is evidently secure enough in his leadership to surround himself with strong personalities who could give him some very bad headaches. And that willingness, coupled with a sense of momentum around his party, is helping the Tories to attract a roster of candidates that will improve their odds against Dalton McGuinty's Liberals in the Oct. 6 provincial election.
Mr. Denley, the latest of those recruits, exemplifies the sort of dual purpose they serve. The profile he's earned with the Ottawa Citizen should get the Tories at least a few extra votes in Ottawa West-Nepean - a riding they failed to claim from the Liberals in a by-election last year, but need to win if they're to have much hope of forming government. But perhaps even more importantly, he brings the prospect of bench strength to a party that's been badly lacking it since the Mike Harris era.
In three straight general elections, including Mr. Harris's final one in 1999, the Tories have seen their seat count reduced. They have been left with only a handful of MPPs who would be taken seriously as prospective cabinet ministers, and it's debatable how many of those would be ready to take on senior portfolios. Nor, with the odd exception, is the party's caucus well-positioned to help Mr. Hudak shoulder the communications burden in the coming campaign.
It would be a stretch to suggest that the bulk of their nominees, consisting largely of municipal councillors and local businesspeople, really fills that void. But along with Mr. Denley, Mr. Rossi and Mr. Gaudet are at least a few other high-profile candidates - among them former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli, Hamilton television personality Donna Skelly and Ben Shenouda, the president of the Independent Pharmacists of Ontario. And it's expected that there will be a couple more quasi-star candidates unveiled in the near future, including at least one member of the business community.
If Mr. Hudak does get to build a cabinet, he will have a big challenge establishing and maintaining discipline. Many of these people are accustomed to speaking their minds in public, and few of them have much (if any) experience in government. Combined with some of the personalities he already has to contend with - most notably Randy Hillier, the controversial former head of the Ontario Landowners Association - they will at times test their leader's patience.
But then, no party's recruitment process is without risk. Seeking to show renewal, the Liberals have welcomed into their fold another former Toronto mayoral candidate, Sarah Thomson, who is all but assured to go off script during the campaign. And there are rumours that erstwhile federal MP Dan McTeague - a populist crusader against gas prices who would seem a very odd fit with Mr. McGuinty's brand of pragmatism - will seek the Liberal nomination in Pickering-Scarborough East.
As for the NDP, the recent controversy over its new federal MPs will bring added scrutiny to nominees even in ridings where they're not supposed to have a chance - giving a party with only 10 MPPs the challenge of finding nearly a hundred credible nominees.
In Mr. Hudak's case, he's looking to prove that he's leading a government-in-waiting. He could have opted to go only for quiet professionalism that would avoid any controversies leading up to election day. Instead he's decided to add a little colour to a party that hasn't had much of it for a while.