TORONTO - Like his federal cousins, newly minted Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says he will reach out to immigrants to grow the party ahead of the next election.
The party's ranks must expand from the current 43,000 members if the Tories are to defeat the ruling Liberals in the 2011 provincial election, Hudak said Sunday.
Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who endorsed Hudak during the leadership race, has "done a great job" in courting new Canadians, he said.
"I look forward to emulating what he'd done here provincially," said the former cabinet minister.
Hudak's grandparents, who immigrated from the former Czechoslovakia, always voted Liberal because they saw the Tories as the "boss's party," he said.
"I want to change that. If I can make an important mark on our party going forward, it would be that next wave of new Canadians - whether they come from Slovakia or China or India - will see the Ontario PC party as their natural home."
In a speech last February, Kenney urged his provincial cousins to court new Canadians, calling them the "demographic future" of both Conservative parties, particularly in Ontario.
It appears to be the lynchpin in a federal Tory plan to grow the party in vote-rich Ontario, which is key to forming a long-sought majority government.
But Hudak could hit a roadblock in recruiting newcomers with his controversial promise to scrap the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and have discrimination cases heard in courts.
Leadership rivals Christine Elliott and Frank Klees both warned during the campaign that the policy would tank with voters, particularly ethnic minorities.
Hudak, 41, wouldn't back off that promise Sunday, but said he's reaching out to all four candidates in the race to get them involved in the policy process.
Elliott and her husband, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, are old friends and even showed up at his victory party Saturday night in Toronto, Hudak said.
The Niagara-era politician said he'll focus on creating jobs and improving Ontario's troubled economy in the lead-up to the election, not social policy.
But there are lessons to be learned from the campaign, such as harnessing new technology that's fundamentally changed how political campaigns are won, Hudak said. He's eager to use social networking platforms like Facebook and Twitter to recruit new members and get the Conservative message out.
During the campaign, Hudak often Twittered about his activities and held "electronic town halls" - essentially a conference call designed like a radio call-in show where over a thousand people could call in and ask him questions.
"There's no doubt that the Obama presidency was fuelled largely by the communications methods they used as well to get his message out," he said. "I want to incorporate that into the Ontario PC party."
Hudak, who named former party president Blair McCreadie to lead his transition team, said he'll hold a strategy session in July with the party brass. He's also speaking to his caucus this week and may shuffle some of the Opposition critics.
Hudak won the closely fought leadership battle late Saturday with 5,606 electoral votes, beating out his closest rival Frank Klees, who took 4,644 votes.
He succeeds interim leader Bob Runciman and John Tory, who triggered the race when he resigned in March.
Hudak emerged early on as a favourite to win, with a well-oiled organizational team backing him and the support of his mentor, former premier Mike Harris.
Hudak was labelled as the heir apparent to Harris and his successful Common Sense Revolution platform, which propelled the party to power in 1995.
Harris, a hero to the party's most devout conservatives, cut taxes and slashed spending in Ontario, including a 22 per cent reduction in welfare rates.
His government's controversial agenda sparked angry labour unrest and widespread protests that culminated in a violent clash between police and anti-poverty activists on the front lawn of the provincial legislature in 2000.
Prominent Tories from the Harris era also endorsed Hudak during the four-month race, including John Baird and Tony Clement, who now sit at Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet table.
Hudak has strong ties to the Harris era and is even married to the ex-premier's former chief of staff, Deb Hutton, with whom he has a 20-month-old daughter, Miller.
Many observers predict that under Hudak, the party will swing back to the neo-conservative Harris days and abandon the Red Tory tradition that was the hallmark of the party's 42-year dynasty in the post-war period.
"The era of the Red Tory is over. It's probably been over for a long time," said Bryan Evans, a politics professor at Toronto's Ryerson University.
The Tories transformed themselves in the late 1980s when they were ejected from government after 42 years, he said.
"And a whole new party has come out of that. Times have changed. What was centrist 30 years ago is at a different location now."