TORONTO - While seven Liberal hopefuls duke it out in Wednesday's final leadership debate, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will be launching a new roadshow to convince voters that he's the one who should be in the premier's seat.
Tory insiders describe the multimedia presentation, called "When the Money Runs Out," as an "honest assessment" of the province's financial troubles and what will happen if urgent action isn't taken to lift Ontario out of the red ink.
"Tim is the only leader who's recognized the magnitude of the problem Ontario finds itself in, and spent the last year mapping out his plan to address both the debt and jobs crisis," Hudak's campaign manager Ian Robertson told The Canadian Press.
"This tour is about sending a wake-up call to the other parties that now is the time for urgent action, and they aren't prepared to lead. Tim is."
The Opposition leader will be taking the campaign-style presentation on the road for the next few months, targeting Liberal ridings particularly in Windsor, Ottawa and London, Robertson added.
Hudak will address the Liberals' argument that their government didn't create the 2008 recession and the $14.4-billion deficit isn't their fault.
"But the truth is that Ontario was, and is, much worse off that we should have been," he says in prepared remarks obtained by The Canadian Press.
Government spending has outpaced economic growth, taxes and energy prices have gone up, and the province has lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs, yet added the same number of jobs to the "already-bloated public sector payroll" that eats up about half of Ontario's $120-billion budget, he says.
"When the only 'growth industry' in Ontario is government, something is wrong."
Hudak is also expected to take aim at public sector unions. They supported the government during elections and in return, the government gave the unions what they wanted — and more — during labour negotiations, Hudak says.
"The trouble is, Ontario taxpayers couldn't afford it," he says. "Their money was running out."
The province's debt has doubled to $260 billion, which is putting all the services Ontarians value, such as health care and education, at risk, he says.
"Ontario can't afford to kick the can down the road any longer. Not only are we about to run out of money, we're also about to run out of time."
The province needs a leaner public service, a premier with the skills to balance the budget and "the courage to make the tough decisions" needed to tackle the debt, Hudak is expected to argue.
His speech includes many of the ideas he's floated in seven so-called "white papers," covering topics such as the economy, labour, health care and taxes. There are four more to come, dealing with health care services, education and social services.
The trial balloons include having Ontario get out of the gambling business, making it a "right to work" province by giving people the right to decide whether to join their workplace union, and potentially selling the LCBO. But they aren't official party policy.
His ideas have created waves. Just a few weeks after Hudak talked about allowing corner stores to sell alcohol, the Liberals quickly countered it by announcing a pilot project to sell liquor and wine in 10 grocery stores.
The tour appears to be part of Hudak's political makeover since his party's poor showing in the 2011 election, which saw the Liberals reduced to a minority.
If there's an election this year, the Tories will be ready, Robertson said.
"The one thing that Tim's made clear is he's going to be in a position to share a positive vision of the province, and be in a position to share a plan with the province and ask for a clear mandate to grow our economy and bring our province back to balance," he added.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said only Ontario Liberals have a plan for smart investments in public services and eliminating the deficit.
"It's too bad Mr. Hudak hasn't realized that what's running out for him is time," Duncan said. "Ontarians have no time for him or his Tea Party antics."
NDP MPP Gilles Bisson said New Democrats are always interested in positive ideas for change, "but most of what we've seen so far are recycled schemes that have left families falling behind."