Saturday, September 3, 2011

Hudak's dangerous liaison with Rob Ford

The Toronto Star:

Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives are taking a massive gamble and embracing Mayor Rob Ford, not out of love — the two aren’t close — but because they have no choice.

The risks are huge. Ford’s popularity is sinking, according to polling data, as his hunt for “gravy” falters and his administration wobbles. Just as the provincial campaign takes off, Ford is wading into budget deliberations seemingly eager to inflict deep spending cuts despite a promise not to.

Hudak was the last of the three party chiefs to meet with Ford, who is asking for, among other things, a hefty pledge of provincial dollars to help fill a potential “gap” in private-sector funding to get his $3.7 billion Sheppard subway line built.

Ford did not ask the PC leader about his vow to halt the province taking back previously downloaded costs, something the Liberals said would cost Toronto $170 million per year.

Hudak, whose own poll numbers have been slipping, has calculated that he can’t alienate Ford or his voters.

The Conservative party infuriated Ford and his brother, Doug, last year by sending a cease-and-desist letter accusing the Fords of using the party’s voter list — an accusation they denied.

A widely held belief, that Hudak’s campaign will get access to the valuable database of hundreds of thousands of conservative-minded voters gleaned from Ford’s “telephone townhalls,” is false, sources say.

The voter list letter darkened already bad blood between Hudak’s campaign manager, Mark Spiro, and Ford’s campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, who was also the mayor’s chief of staff until February.

But the Star has learned of polling data showing Ford’s popularity steadily sinking from an almost 70 per cent approval rating after the Oct. 25 election to only 45 per cent in early August.

Nelson Wiseman, a veteran political scientist at the University of Toronto, also believes the Fords’ rock-star appeal has dimmed, scoffing at the mayor’s past threat to unleash his “Ford Nation” supporters to topple McGuinty.

“Ford Nation is now a little clam,” Wiseman said. “Sometimes it seems to be two people — Rob and his brother who, since the election, have come across like Abbott and Costello.

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