McGuinty claimed to have made bold strides on the environment. But the centerpiece of his environmental plan, led by the now retired George Smitherman, was the Green Energy Act. The GEA, the vanguard of which is industrial wind power, cost McGuinty his majority. It also cost him four cabinet ministers, and what little remained of his party’s credibility in rural and small-town Ontario. There was no putting that genie back in the bottle, either.
This is not how it typically ends. Which raises this single question: Why?
When former Ontario premier Mike Harris saw the writing on the wall and stepped aside in 2002 – it was around this time of year – he told a heartwarming tale about flying north across the lakes and forests and seeing the fall leaves as he’d never seen them before. It was Harris, the poet.
When Brian Mulroney quit, in 1993, he convened a full meeting of his enormous cabinet, with all the requisite pomp and ceremony, and delivered a lengthy, carefully considered and combative speech, designed – or so he thought at the time – to set his Progressive Conservative Party up for victory in the next election, under a new and exciting leader.
Pierre Trudeau took walks in the snow. Twice.
But Dalton McGuinty, the three-term sitting premier of Canada’s most populous province, still demographically the heavyweight in Confederation, quit Monday over the dinner hour, without a hint of warning. He did so while proroguing his legislature, bound to be controversial at the best of times, and amid a burgeoning scandal, over the politically motivated and ruinously expensive cancellation of gas-fired power plants in the greater Toronto area in the last election.
McGuinty won a third time just a year ago. He holds a large minority, just shy of a majority, in the Ontario legislature. Such a heavyweight is he deemed to be, in Liberal circles, that the Twitterverse instantly went into hyperdrive late Monday with speculation that he’s about to run for the federal Liberal leadership.
According to the Canadian Press’s Joan Bryden, a “draft Dalton” campaign has been under way for a month. McGuinty’s entry into the federal race would turn the race into a contest, rather than a coronation, for frontrunner Justin Trudeau, according to Bryden’s sources.
It doesn’t add up. Far more likely is that he prorogued, and quit, in a last-ditch effort to prevent imminent defeat.
McGuinty has long called himself “the education Premier.” The reality is that he bought peace with the public service unions through two terms, using taxpayer dollars to fund generous raises. The moment the well ran dry, the unions turned on him, just as they once had on Bob Rae, when he was premier of Ontario. The battle with the public service unions was a deal breaker: This is a government whose political power was built on taking good care of public servants – not just teachers, but also police officers, doctors and administrators of every kind. All have turned on their former benefactors.
There was no putting that genie back in the bottle.
McGuinty claimed to have made bold strides on the environment. But the centerpiece of his environmental plan, led by the now retired George Smitherman, was the Green Energy Act. The GEA, the vanguard of which is industrial wind power, cost McGuinty his majority. It also cost him four cabinet ministers, and what little remained of his party’s credibility in rural and small-town Ontario.
There was no putting that genie back in the bottle, either.
McGuinty claimed to have made great strides for Ontario economically. The truth, as outlined in the Drummond Report last February, is far different. McGuinty borrowed and spent wildly when times were good, leaving little in the till for the current manufacturing slump. The province this fiscal year will post a deficit of $14.4-billion, according to Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. That is not sound financial management. It is making it up as you go along.
The speculation about McGuinty as a federal Liberal leader would have had more credence a year ago. Even last January, at the Liberals biennial policy convention in Ottawa, he was feted as a hero: Home town boy made good.
But in Ontario today, despite the self-congratulatory crowing cobbled together for the resignation speech, McGuinty is damaged goods. Recent polls have shown his support languishing in the low twenties.
At his press conference Monday night, McGuinty left open the possibility of a federal run. Under repeated questioning, he insisted only that he had “no plans.”Presumably that means he may be open to a draft.
Good luck with that.
In choosing McGuinty as leader, the federal Liberals would be hitching themselves to an anvil in the very region they most need to make gains in 2015. The smart strategic hands in the party have to know that. McGuinty himself, who has not survived as long as he has by being a fool, also knows it.
In his current weakened state, leaving a burgeoning mess in his wake at Queen’s Park, he could not win the federal leadership – even against the vastly less experienced Trudeau.
The likeliest answer to the singular question, then, is this: He quit because he’s had it. Like Jean Charest in Quebec, he saw that staying on would only expose him and his party to greater controversy and scandal. And he walked away. He won’t be coming back.
It’s an untidy, ignominious end for a politician who, until Monday at dinner time, was one of the most powerful leaders in Canada.
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