Hudak challenged on Ford's falling poll numbers

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wanted to talk about smart meters at a Monday morning event in Toronto, but instead had to answer questions about how he is affected by the sagging approval ratings of Mayor Rob Ford.

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wanted to talk about smart meters at a Monday morning event in Toronto, but instead had to answer questions about how he is affected by the sagging approval ratings of Mayor Rob Ford, a fellow conservative.

Hudak, hosting a media event at a warehouse in Etobicoke, where Ford served as councillor for 11 years before being elected mayor, was asked repeatedly about the apparent hit that the mayor's popularity has taken.

Two polls that have emerged in recent days have suggested the once-popular mayor is losing support amid his quest to cut spending in order to bridge a budget gap estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ford's brother, Doug, is a high-profile city councillor who has endorsed Hudak, although the mayor has yet to endorse any provincial leader. The PC Leader also attended a massive barbecue held by Ford earlier this month and is counting on winning some seats in vote-rich Toronto in the Oct. 6 election.

"I think the Liberals have taken Toronto seats and Toronto voters for granted for far too long. Things are going to change," Hudak said when first asked about whether he thinks his campaign is being hurt by Ford. 

Gridlock has worsened, hydro and home heating costs have gone up and the Liberals "have done nothing about" violent offenders, despite having all but four seats in the city, Hudak said. The Tories currently don't have any seats in Toronto.

When asked twice more about Ford, Hudak finally replied: "I know that Mayor Ford and council are going through recommendations [on service cuts] by the city manager. So the question is, how can the province be of assistance?

"And one of the best ways we can be of assistance is to fix a broken arbitration system that sees arbitrators thumbing their noses at the city, at municipalities, and at ratepayers."

Hudak has railed against the arbitration system, which he has criticized for awarding excessive contracts and for being too opaque.

Smart meters must go, says Hudak

Hudak held the Monday media event to reaffirm his pledge to axe the mandatory smart meter program that he says forces seniors to do their laundry in the middle of the night.

Smart meters allow people to shift electricity-consuming chores to off-peak times when power rates are lower.

But too many families are unable to do that, so the system amounts to another tax, Hudak argued.

Hudak said people who like the idea designed to conserve power can choose to opt in.

He did not say what power would end up costing if the system is scrapped but says flat-rate metering would continue.

The Liberals quickly jumped on Hudak's comments. A Liberal press release said because 64 per cent of residential electricity is consumed outside of so-called peak hours, applying a flat rate across all usage hours would result in a price jump for residential customers.

"It is business and industry who drives up the usage during so-called peak times," the Liberal release stated. "Hudak’s failure to understand this basic fact will result in families paying the price of his ill-conceived policy." 

After his Toronto stop, Hudak headed east visiting CFB Trenton, Prescott and Cornwall.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty started the day with a tour of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also began her day in Toronto, talking up her party's pledge to fund 50 per cent of municipalities' transit operating costs. That money, however, would only become available if municipalities freeze fares for a four-year period.

After campaigning in Toronto, Horwath moved on to Ottawa.

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With files from The Canadian Press