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Tim Hudak is stuck on his default setting

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak makes a campaign stop in Ottawa on Sept. 8, 2011.


Sooner or later, we may just have to accept that – as a politician, if not as a person – this is who Tim Hudak is.

Since his party's disappointing result in Ontario's Oct. 6 election, the Progressive Conservative Leader has overhauled his office. He has begun shifting his policy focus toward a more hard-line fiscal conservatism. But with the Legislature's return, the off-putting aspects of his public persona – the over-reliance on scripted talking points, the hyper-aggression toward his rivals, the inability to show a sympathetic side – have been as much on display as ever.

Twice in the past week, Mr. Hudak has had opportunities to soften his edges. Both times, he has flatly rejected them.

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First was last Friday's meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty, ostensibly an attempt to find common ground before the minority Legislature's first sitting. Whereas NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called a similar meeting with Mr. McGuinty "cordial" and "very civilized," Mr. Hudak summoned reporters to announce that he was "frustrated" and "disappointed" by the Premier's closed-mindedness. Then he sent a letter to supporters telling them to be ready for an election next year.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hudak burst out of the Legislature immediately after a typically anodyne Speech from the Throne angrily threatening to bring down the government. It was an obvious bluff, because the New Democrats had no interest in joining such an effort. But as a tone-setter, it was unmistakable.

Both reactions seemed to have been plotted before he knew what he was reacting to.

To some extent, Mr. Hudak's bravado is about strategy. Facing a leadership review this winter, he evidently feels the need to show strength. Fundraising is also a part of the equation.

But based on his career at Queen's Park, right back to his days as a pit bull for the Mike Harris government, this is also Mr. Hudak's default setting.

Those who've spent time with him in private when he's engaging and thoughtful and eminently charming keep waiting for that side of him to show publicly. But put a microphone in his face, and he reverts to scripted snarliness.

It's hardly too late for him to change. Mr. McGuinty, who underwent a fairly radical transformation between his first election and his second, is a living reminder not to assume politicians are incapable of self-improvement. So, too, is Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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But the early signs are not too encouraging.

Earlier this week, the Tories held a thank-you party for their central campaign team. If ever there was an audience before which Mr. Hudak could relax and be himself, this was surely it. But by the account of a usually sympathetic attendee, he stuck to more or less the same post-election script he's been using elsewhere – serving up talking points to the people who had written them.

Never let it be said that the PC Leader lacks for personal discipline, and maybe that will be enough to win power eventually. But warmth and personality, at least in public, are a long way off.

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Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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