Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Twilight of the McGuinty Era

I read about politics every day, or watch it on TV, yet yesterday’s announcement of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s future resignation was a total shock to me. Despite being embattled for years the Premier has always stuck it out, often stubbornly. He has fought mean and negative campaigns to stay in power and has done what it takes. His sudden resignation was totally out of character, at least in my estimation of the man.

Dalton McGuinty (OLP – Ottawa South) has been an MPP for twenty-two years, leader of the Liberals for sixteen, and Premier for nine. It is not shocking that he was ready for the end. When we look at the current state of his government it is also not surprising that he is choosing this time to leave politics and escape scrutiny of the Legislative Assembly. New contempt allegations were being laid against Minister Chris Bentley (OLP – London West) for suddenly revealing there were an additional 20,000 pages of documents he had failed to disclose. Whether or not it was a simple oversight, the perception has ruled that this was a partisan decision by the government and cover-up was underway.

The minority government has been struggling to tackle the looming debt and deficit. The solutions the McGuinty Liberals have been met with an opposition that either ardently disagrees or would rather them twist in the wind. The half-measures are both failing to win support in the Legislature and fix the problem. In an attempt to find savings the Liberals have alienated their old allies in the public sector unions – particularly teachers. If it were not for Ontarians unease with an ONDP government and their distaste for the Hudak PCs, it is likely Mr. McGuinty could have retired a year ago.

Say what you will about Mr. McGuinty’s record, he is leaving on a sour note. By proroguing parliament long enough for his party to select the next Premier the opposition will be mobilized against his government for the partisan move. In the interim the Liberals will continue to govern without the scrutiny of the legislature. More importantly, the other MPPs will be unable to do their work representing their constituents.

While yesterday the media was full of lamentations at his departure and salutes to his public service the race has already begun to replace him. The Ontario Liberals should be proud at such impressive bench strength. Nine years in government has produced a number of very capable cabinet ministers that will be able to rise to the challenge to replace McGuinty. Kathleen Wynne (OLP – Don Valley West), Laurel Broten (OLP – Etobicoke Lakeshore), Deb Mathews (OLP – London North Centre), Chris Bentley (OLP – London West), Charles Sousa (OLP – Mississauga South), Yasir Naqvi (OLP – Ottawa Centre), and Brad Duguid (OLP – Scarborough Centre) are all names mentioned to succeed as Premier of the province of Ontario. Something I am curious about is whether or not any current or former federal MPs drop into the provincial party now that it looks like Justin Trudeau may be coronated. Someone like Bob Rae, or Martha Hall Findlay may be much more tempted to ply Ontario’s provincial waters than try to battle against Mulcair and Harper while sitting in third.

McGuinty may have viewed his mandate as reversing the damage of the Harris years, but it has come at a very real cost. The nanny state nature of the Liberal government has been tiresome, such as the ban on pitbulls. The way the Liberals ran against John Tory by demonizing faith schools was unconscionable. While there are definite parts of McGuinty’s record that are important I feel overall he has been a fairly average overall. His stewardship has been ‘steady as she goes’ when the province desperately needed real reforms in key areas. Post-secondary education, health, infrastructure, public transit – the failures to innovate there must be weighed against his successes in introducing the HST, and education.

I think the most important thing to remember is that Dalton McGuinty will resign, he has not yet resigned. For untold months Ontario will continue to be led by him and his ministers, unaccountable to the voting public while his party takes its time to select a new leader. Furthermore this new leader will be under tremendous pressure to call a late winter or early spring election. The prorogation killed 119 pieces of legislation that were moving through the Legislature. They will have to be reintroduced whenever the Premier calls the Assembly back.

When more than a day has passed I will have a better notion of our twenty-fourth premier’s historic legacy. Depending on how these next few months go, and the success or failure of his successor will determine how he is interpreted. In the meantime Ontarians have no democratic representatives in Queen’s Park and so must wait.

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