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Tim Hudak spent his life climbing the Tory ladder and now he has a shot at taking over Queen’s Park—but can he convince voters he’s more than just Mike Harris lite?

Tim Hudak

Tim Hudak is riding in the back of an RV, a big, bouncy RV wrapped in an enormous picture of his smiling face, and he’s coming to see you. He’s really happy. So happy that he’s tweeting about it on his BlackBerry. “Outstanding,” he types, and, “On my way…” Now he’s peering out the front window, over the driver’s shoulder, toward one of the event venues where he’s going to meet you. “Shit, has this thing started?” He doesn’t want to be late. He wants to look you in the eyes and tell you what he thinks, and he wants to listen to you, too. The whole big meet-and-greet ball of wax: he loves it. This is who he is. “It gets in your blood, right?” he asks. Although that’s not actually a question. Putting “right?” at the end of certain things he says is just Tim Hudak’s way. “You are who you are, right?” he says. “I’m Tim Hudak.”

The man running to be Ontario’s next premier fuelled up for the day at The Egg and I in Stoney Creek, with black coffee, eggs over-easy, brown toast and sausages. This is not typical for Hudak. Normally he’s a cereal man. He has five kinds of cereal in his cupboard and can rhyme off all the popular brands from his youth—Franken Berry, Count Chocula, Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms (“They’re magically delicious!” he says). But today he had a big breakfast, because he needs lots of energy, because he’s going to spend the whole day shaking your hand.

Across from him in the RV sits his principal secretary and deputy chief of staff, Carrie Kormos. Smart, slender and blond, Kormos has known Hudak all her life. She grew up with him on the same quiet street in Fort Erie, watched him shoot baskets with his friends in the Hudak driveway. She has worked for him, off and on, ever since he began in politics, and she speaks of him now with a disciple’s passion, often referring to him as “The Leader.” On this morning, Kormos has eaten no breakfast because the face-plastered RV has such notoriously bad suspension that most staffers who ride in it become nauseated. “Everybody,” she says, “but The Leader.”

For 16 years, Hudak has been travelling the back roads of his Niagara West–Glanbrook riding, hitting one event after another: barbecues, church dinners, 50th wedding anniversaries. Lynette Corbett, his chief of staff, says, “Tim really is a phenomenal local politician.” He knows the area’s routes so intimately that he likens himself to one of the Dukes of Hazzard (“although I don’t jump over anything”) and mocks his staff’s reliance on GPS. But the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party spends so much time grinning and glad-handing at one event after another that he takes longer than he should. That means Avi Yufest, the young political operative tasked with driving the RV, has to rush between stops, and…is that a siren?

Hudak lifts his head. “That doesn’t sound good,” he says.

The police are pulling over Tim Hudak’s RV.

“Oh, Avi,” says Kormos.

While the leader of Ontario’s official opposition stays seated at the centre table, alert but apparently unconcerned, the officer informs Avi that he has been monitoring the speed of his vehicle, and it has been consistently 20 to 25 kilometres an hour over the limit.

“Are you late for something?” the officer asks.

“Yeah,” says Avi, “we’re trying to get Mr. Hudak to Grimsby.” In the back, Hudak chuckles and dips his head.

After a check of Avi’s driver’s licence and an aborted search for the RV’s registration, the officer lets him off with a warning.

“Thanks very much,” calls Hudak from his seat. “’Preciate it!”

“Check your mirrors once in a while,” says the officer as he turns. “Because I’ve had my lights on for quite some time trying to get your attention.”

“Jesus,” Hudak mutters. And when they’re finally underway, he grins sheepishly and calls forward to the driver. “Sorry about that, Avi. I shook too many hands!”