Dalton McGuinty and everything after

Who will replace Dalton McGuinty as Ontario Liberal leader? Writes Paul Wells: That is their problem

by Paul Wells

Of the last three changes of the Ontario government’s party stripe, two happened when a long-serving premier was replaced by an untested successor who promptly got his clock cleaned by the opposition.

Frank Miller replaced Bill Davis in 1985 and lasted four months as Ontario Progressive Conservative leader before losing 18 seats to the Liberals and NDP and, after those parties presented a confidence pact, finally losing power to David Peterson’s Liberals. Ernie Eves lasted more than a year as Mike Harris’s successor before losing, to Dalton McGuinty, in 2003.

It is always attractive to replace leaders when a party is in trouble but the gambit fails more often than it succeeds. A party keeps the problems it had before, while giving up the very considerable advantages of incumbency. It tells voters who have been in the habit of supporting the party because they grew to like the old leader that they are now free to look around. They often do. At the federal level, John Turner could tell you about that, and Kim Campbell, and, although he did win his first election as leader, Paul Martin.

The Ontario Liberals are electorally weakened by Dalton McGuinty’s departure, but to some extent that is none of his problem. They were electorally strengthened — more than they must have thought possible when he won the leadership after starting in 4th place at the 1996 convention — by his 16 years as leader.

Green and sent into battle with a simplistic message, he lost to Mike Harris in 1999. (“What do you think about when you go to sleep at night?” television host Arlene Bynon asked him, trying desperately to shake him from his health-care-and-education message track. “I think about how much I want to improve health care and education for every Ontarian,” he said, doggedly.) When he escaped his handlers, he was actually a lot of fun to cover. The first day I followed him, he stalked around Kingston making borderline inappropriate jokes as a way of coping with his nervous energy. He walked into a greasy spoon with a mob of staffers and reporters following and announced to the diners, “Hi! We’re here to ruin your lunch.” He kissed a baby and then said to the bewildered mom, “Lady, I’m gonna need to borrow your kid for about the next six weeks.”

His party was smart enough to hang onto him after that first failure, allowing the advantages of incumbency to build while he worked at improving his policy and message. He won in 2003, as too many leaders everywhere do, by affecting ignorance of the real state of the province’s books, pulling the mother of all “I Can’t Believe There’s a Deficit” acts upon arriving in office. The promise not to raise taxes that he had signed during the campaign, with Taxpayers Federation president and future Stephen Harper spokesman John Williamson standing over his shoulder, went wheeling out the window. McGuinty kicked off nearly a decade of taxing and spending.

And Ontarians were pretty happy with it all. McGuinty lost only one seat in the 2007 election, becoming the first Liberal to win consecutive majorities in 70 years. But the government’s bloated fisc has made the recent hard times hard to weather, and last year voters administered a haircut, cutting the Liberals to one seat short of a majority. Trouble has piled up for McGuinty since. He decided to take the exit.

He did it by proroguing the Ontario legislature, which will upset people who worry about prorogation of legislatures. I am sure you won’t have to look far for some outrage on that front, but I am afraid we’re fresh out here at Inkless.

Will he be a candidate for the federal Liberal leadership? I would be astonished, but then, McGuinty has already astonished me once tonight. I’ll note only that in January he spoke to the federal Liberal convention in Ottawa. While that speech drew a lot of attention and excitement among Liberals who were a bit hungry for good news, in substance it constituted a warning to the federal party that today’s Dalton McGuinty is not the sort of leader they should be seeking.

“My party’s journey from opposition to government took seven years under my leadership,” he said. “Choosing a new leader is no quick fix. I’m the big proof of that. There are no saviours. There are no overnight successes. There is only hard work — lots of it. ” He mentioned Wilfrid Laurier: “As leader of the opposition he spent nine years growing and strengthening our party until he earned government. …Laurier should inspire all of us, especially now.”

Seven years from now Dalton McGuinty will be 64.

Who will replace him as Ontario Liberal leader? That is their problem. At the next election, the Liberals will be the only party with an untested leader in his or her first election. That leader will have to do the same obligatory silly dance all new leaders of incumbent parties do, trying to decide whether they should represent Change on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Continuity on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or vice versa. These days I call it the Christy Clark Dance.

One last thing. I have genuinely admired the work McGuinty has done in leading Ontario’s public schools, and I am not alone. The OECD’s triennial PISA international testing project has shown consistent strength in Ontario schools. Here is what PISA director Andreas Schleicher says about Ontario’s performance:

“The Ontario story is also one of strong central leadership coupled with a major investment in capacity-building and trust-building in the field. I’ve been impressed how the McGuinty government worked tirelessly to build a sense of shared understanding and common purpose among key stakeholder groups. Their success rested heavily on the confidence that the government had in the quality of the teaching force. The decision to invest in encouraging local experimentation and innovation has sent a very strong signal that a teacher-generated solution can achieve more than solutions imposed from above. …

“The McGuinty government made no attempt to dismantle or even weaken the assessment regime put in place by the previous government and it consistently communicates that student outcomes matter. But its response to weak performance has consistently been intervention and support, not blame and punishment. They succeeded to dramatically reduce the number of low-performing schools, not by threatening to close them, but by flooding schools with technical assistance and support.”




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Dalton McGuinty and everything after

  1. I knew he was the perfect premier for our time when I discovered he had read ‘The World Is Flat’ by Friedman, and that he was travelling to China and India

    I was sorry to hear just before the election that this would be his last term, but even so 3 terms is amazing in today’s world.

    I’d like to thank him for his service, and wish him well in future.

    • Considering that you’re an Ontario separatist, and Mcguinty failed to separate, in fact he never even held a referendum, why on earth would he be perfect?

      • I said he was the perfect premier for our time…..wacko Cons, here and elsewhere, are what make me want to separate.

        • Sometimes it’s a good idea to use tags; for times when 1/2 the readers miss the point.

          • Hey – Disqus just filled in the closing sarcasm tag automatically. Honest, I did not put that in!

            Cool feature. Try it out.

        • So that you can live in the new Grand Duchy of Ontario, formerly known as the Province that elected the largest number of Conservative MPs in Canada. Fascinating..

          • As I said before Bean…take the training wheels off. You’re old enough now to post your own material instead of constantly riffing off mine.

            Especially since you always get it bassackwards.

          • Orson Bean has a good point. If that’s your reason for separation, you should move to the Liberals’ last bastion, Newfoundland, and start your campaign from there, not from a province that voted overwhelmingly conservative with nearly 50% of the vote and 75% of the seats.

          • Bean never has a point

            Ontario and Quebec….the original Canada.

          • Yeah, Bean’s a drooling idiot. Emily is a paragon of reason and airtight Cartesian logic.

          • Topic please. I’m not it.

          • It’s more like fuzzy logic. Original logic from the original Canada. The basis for the new constitution of the United Kingdom of Greater Toronto.

          • The New Republic of Ontari – ari – o?
            The United Torontarian Republic?
            The Democratic Republic of Ontario?
            The United Kingdom of Greater Toronto?
            The Ontarian Free State?

  2. “Of the last three changes of the Ontario government’s party stripe…”

    Strike “three,” insert “four,” and you’re golden. Bob Rae knocked off David Peterson in 199o. Difficult to picture Bob Rae winning an election, but he did.

      • And also Bob Rae lost an election, so that’s the fourth of four. What?

  3. Mostly Christy sits on the fence on the weekends then? Sounds about right.
    I can’t see Dalton running for LPC leader either; although if anyone can put a hoof in Justin’s feed bag, it’s him. Wouldn’t that be an interesting position to be in for Gerald Butts?

    • It would be interesting to see what Dalton would run on. Hire me I am a great economic manager and I will not raise your taxes. Or this bute….there will be no scandals under me as I am pure as the driven snow.

      • I cn’t imagine the LPC would want to choose a guy with as much history as Dalton has, regardless of his political talents. He’s told the party as much at convention.

  4. All the best to you, Mr. McGuinty.
    But I sure as hell am glad to see you go.

  5. Dalton McGuinty is cutting and running from politics… believe it.

    He looked and sounded frightened, scared and guilty of something still secret to have forced him from office.

    His excuses for leaving were shallow and trite, and not of a man leaving politics gracefully.

    Dalton is guilty… soooo obvious.

    • Perhaps he learned a little too much from watching Harris head for the exit so gracefully?

  6. “which will upset people who worry about prorogation of legislatures”

    It’s only bad when a conservative does it. Otherwise it’s not worth noticing.

    • I don’t think Liberals would have been half as upset had Harper resigned during that prorogation.

      • To the extent the opposition is being truthful and Bentley is actually with-holding documents, then it is not good. But so far he hasn’t turned up his nose at a contempt vote and it kinda appears he’s been willing to put docs on the table. And indeed if he had stepped down at the first pro-rogue it would have seemed much more reasonable.

        So while there’s room for crticism anyone reasonable would still have to observe this pro-rogue is head and shoulders above Harper’s behaviour.

      • Oh-no. They’d care-and I say this speaking as one.

  7. I disagree about Ontario education sector. As far as I can tell, McGuinty accomplished nothing, He wrecked Ontario’s energy sector, sent the health sector backwards, created a gigantic deficit, raised taxes, and turned Ontario into a have-not province. But he was good at election campaigns.

    • Wells sez: “One last thing. I have genuinely admired the work McGuinty has done in leading Ontario’s public schools, and I am not alone.”

      …then follows it up with a detailed explanation.

      scf sez: “I disagree about Ontario education sector”

      …then follows that up with precisely nothing.

      Who do you suppose is more convincing?

      • You are correct that I did not back up that argument. But getting this from you is a laugh, hypocrite.

        • hypocrite

          You didn’t back that up either.

          • The evidence is obvious and everywhere.

          • …or that.

  8. I wonder if there isn’t something private and personal going on in his life that forced this decision.

    • He made the decision because he lost the byelection which was his final shot at a majority. It didn’t help that the unions are ready to wage war and his cabinet minister is at risk of a jail term for contempt of parliament. Without a majority to eliminate the opposition he could not stomach the upcoming battles, especially after he witnessed the same sort of battles in the federal parliament and he’s already had all the time he needed to implement his vision.

      • I’m jealous of your psychic abilities.

        • OK, I didn’t think I needed to add the disclaimer: this is my interpretation of the events and evidence I have witnessed.

          That disclaimer is more or less implicitly attached to every comment.

          Or maybe I’ll just use the standard disclaimer. Here:

          The views and opinions expressed by that comment are soley those of the original authors and other contributors and do not necessarily represent the original thoughts of Dalton Mcguinty, and should not be taken as recommendations or advice.
          While the author makes a reasonable effort to maintain
          the currency and accuracy of the comment he is not in a position to guarantee this. The information is supplied “as is”.
          Use of information obtained from or through that comment is at your own risk.

  9. As a public servant I am glad to see McGuinty go! Never in private industry would you see millions in management bonuses paid out and then wages being frozen. OPSEU was willing to negotiate a wage freeze with the provincial Liberals but they wouldn’t agree because its more than a wage freeze they are after.

    And please stay away from the Federal Liberals Mr. McGuinty. The passion that comes with Justin Trudeau makes me look forward to proudly calling myself a liberal supporter again.

    • “Never in private industry would you see millions in management bonuses paid out and then wages being frozen”

      This link: https://www.google.ca/search?q=executive+bonuses+during+layoffs

      …leads to headlines such as:

      “ACOA executives poised for bonuses while layoffs loom”
      “CEOs lay off thousands, rake in millions”
      “Verizon To Lay Off 1,700 Workers After Paying CEO $22 Million Last Year”
      “Post-Dispatch columnist’s advice to CEO: Don’t announce layoffs just after pocketing a bonus”
      “Publisher called layoffs ‘painful’ while pocketing bonus”

      Not to defend McGuinty’s actions, but let’s not portray private business as a bunch of angels.

  10. It’s been time for awhile. He’s right it needs some new blood.

  11. This is now the Question: “Who will win the Liberal leadership?,” the answer is, “Which? Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon or Federal?”.

    Now it’s time for Clark, Sherman, Gerrard, McNeil, and Ghiz to resign.

  12. Hillary Clinton and Dalton McGuinty are afraid of the impending “Three Days of Darkness” this winter as prophesied by the Catholic Capuchin Stigmatic, Saint Pio (Pius) of Pietrelcina (Francesco Forgione). There is much to fear. Be afraid. Be sorely fearful.

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