TORONTO - Tim Hudak insisted Monday he would stay on as the head of the Progressive Conservatives until the party elected a new leader, despite calls for him to step down immediately following a humiliating defeat in last week's election.
Several Tory members of the legislature said Hudak's campaign pledge to cut 100,000 public-sector jobs cost the party nine seats and allowed Premier Kathleen Wynne to be re-elected with a majority government.
They claimed Hudak made the pledge public without running it first by the caucus or the candidates, and said it was time for him to go and an interim leader should take over until the party could hold a leadership convention.
However, party sources said there was no mechanism for the caucus members to force Hudak out at this point, unless he decided on his own to step aside.
"The party will decide the process around a new leader," Hudak said as he emerged from a three-hour caucus meeting at the legislature.
Hudak refused to answer any questions on what he felt went wrong with his campaign, and said he would stick with the plan he announced when he conceded the election last Thursday.
"I made my position clear: I'm looking forward to handing off to a new leader," he said. "I'm proud of the campaign we ran because we put a very clear alternative in front of voters each and every day."
Some of the Conservatives who survived the Liberal sweep said before the caucus meeting Monday that an interim leader should be appointed right away.
"This was an anti-Tim Hudak election," said Prince Edward-Hastings MPP Todd Smith. "We need renewal in our party and it has to start today."
Smith said candidates knocking on doors looking for support were met with angry voters who did not approve of Hudak's plan to cut jobs.
It was "brutal" and "devastating," said Smith, suggesting the party should pick an interim leader as soon as possible.
Other Tories, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were furious about being caught off guard by the jobs cut promise and said Hudak should step aside now and allow someone else to do the lead questions in the legislature and react to the Liberal's upcoming throne speech and budget.
Many Conservatives said there was no doubt voters did not like the vow to cut the size of the Ontario public service by 10 per cent, which Wynne warned would lead to "mass layoffs" and "slam the door on jobs" for young people.
"I don't think there's any more analysis required than that," said MPP Randy Hillier, who placed fourth in the 2009 leadership contest won by Hudak.
Most Conservatives were tight lipped following the meeting, insisting it's against the rules to break caucus confidentiality, including the usually outspoken Lisa MacLeod, who had been the party's energy critic before the election.
"We had a very healthy conversation, I think, and it was a very difficult day," said MacLeod. "We're still trying to digest the results and have a conversation about what we need to do differently."
Conservative MPP Toby Barrett said the party did a poor job of explaining that a lot of the planned job cuts would come through attrition and contracting out services, and credited the attack ads by various unions with helping re-elect the Liberals.
"We have a government for the government unions run by the government unions," said Barrett. "I'm quite impressed how they pulled that off."
Hudak complained during the campaign that 19 different unions were participating in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to fight his jobs plan by urging voters to reject the Progressive Conservatives.
Deputy PC leader Christine Elliott, who insisted it was too early to talk about a leadership bid, said it was "a combination of things" that drove voters from the PCs to the Liberals.
"We ran a principled campaign and I'm very proud, (but) it just wasn't meant to be," she said.
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex Tory Monte McNaughton refused to rule out taking a run for the PC leadership, and like Elliott said it was too soon for such considerations.
"We aren't going to rush to make any decisions," he said, "but over the next two weeks I'm sure we'll come to a conclusion."
Former MPP Jane McKenna, who was defeated in the one-time Conservative stronghold of Burlington, refused to blame the 100,000 job cuts plan or anything else for her loss.
"The people in Burlington spoke and they decided after 71 years to switch to a Liberal candidate and I wish the best for her," McKenna told reporters.
Other names mentioned as possible candidates in a PC leadership race include party president Richard Ciano and federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.
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