Tim Hudak is bowing out as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party today after five years on the job.
Weeks ago, he had hoped that come Canada Day, he would be leading the provincial government. Instead, he finds himself clearing the way for someone else to lead the Opposition — a job that usually doubles as an audition for the position of premier.
With the writing on the wall, Hudak was quick to declare his intentions on the night of the June 12 Ontario election: He would be stepping down as leader.
"I will lead our party and caucus only until that new leader is selected," Hudak said.
The PCs kicked that process into high gear pretty quickly.
On the Monday after the election, Hudak emerged from a lengthy caucus meeting to say there would be a new leader in the "near future." By mid-week, he gave formal notice that he would be stepping down as leader on July 2.
On Wednesday, the Tories elected Jim Wilson to serve as their interim leader.
Early years in Fort Erie
The 46-year-old Tory veteran plans to stay on as the MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook, a riding close to where he was born and raised.
Hudak grew up in Fort Erie, Ont., a border town on the opposite side of the Peace Bridge from Buffalo, N.Y.
The son of a principal and a school teacher earned two degrees — an undergraduate degree from Western University in London, Ont., and a master's degree in economics from the University of Washington. In his 20s, he worked as a customs officer on the bridge in his hometown.
Hudak was a few months shy of his 28th birthday when he was elected MPP for Niagara South on June 8, 1995. That was the election that brought Mike Harris to power, as the Tories won their first of two straight majorities.
Hudak's stock rose during the Harris years, as he went from being a parliamentary assistant to the minister of health to becoming a full-fledged cabinet minister.
In October 2002, he married Deb Hutton, a senior aide to Harris. The couple have two daughters — Miller, who will turn seven this fall, and Maitland, who was born just three months ahead of the June 12 election.
Hudak stayed in cabinet when Ernie Eves took the reins of the party.
When the Liberals won a majority of their own in the fall of 2003, the Tories were pushed back into opposition.
Next it would be John Tory's turn to lead the Ontario PC Party. His tenure as leader ended as Hudak's would — after an election that resulted in a Liberal majority.
When Tory failed to lead the PCs to victory in the October 2007 provincial election, he found himself on the ropes and without a seat in the legislature. A subsequent defeat in a byelection sealed his fate.
His departure opened the door for Hudak to take his shot.
Taking the reins
With the backing of some of his fellow Harris-era veterans, Hudak won the Ontario PC leadership on June 27, 2009. The former premier was sitting in the front row as Hudak delivered his victory speech that day.
In 2011, the Liberals seemed vulnerable to the Tories, but when election night rolled around that year, the Opposition didn't get the result it had hoped for.
Then-premier Dalton McGuinty's government was reduced to a minority, with the Liberals falling one seat short of a majority.
Hudak conceded defeat that night but said the results showed that Ontarians weren't entirely happy with the governing party.
"My friends, it is very clear the people of Ontario have put Dalton McGuinty on a very short leash," he said.
Sure enough, McGuinty would leave his leadership role before Hudak, in part because of a lingering scandal about the Liberal government’s decision to scrap a pair of power plants.
But the PC leader would face a new opponent in Kathleen Wynne, who took control of the Ontario Liberals last year and led them to victory at the polls last month.
When Hudak walked on stage on election night, nearly three weeks ago, he had a similar message for Wynne as he had for McGuinty more than two years earlier.
"Nobody should mistake this result as an endorsement of the status quo," Hudak said. "Kathleen Wynne promised very different behaviour from what we've seen these past 11 years. She will be held accountable if she does not deliver on that change."
In any case, it won't be Hudak in the driver's seat as the Opposition takes up that task over the next four years.