Musings —09.30.2013 06:40 PM—
Ten years ago, the world was an entirely different place, with some political wins and some political losses.
In January, 2003, Jack Layton succeeded Alexa McDonough to become leader of the New Democratic Party.
In April, Jean Charest’s Liberals defeated the Parti Quebecois in an election.
In June, Bernard Lord’s Conservatives were re-elected in New Brunswick. In the same month, the ban on same-sex marriages was lifted by Ontario’s Court of Appeal.
In August, John Hamm’s Conservatives were re-elected in Nova Scotia.
In November, the NDP were narrowly re-elected in Saskatchewan — and in Newfoundland, Danny Williams’ Conservatives defeated the Liberals to form government.
And, in December, Jean Chretien stepped aside, and Paul Martin was named leader of the governing Liberal party.
Oh, and Dalton McGuinty. In October, the Ontario Liberal leader swept aside the governing Conservatives of Premier Ernie Eves. The Conservatives had ruled Ontario for most of the years since Confederation — including one extraordinary uninterrupted period, from 1943 to 1985.
The federal Liberals, in 2003, were still regarded as the Natural Governing Party. But it was the Ontario Conservatives which were the true Natural Governing Party, at least at the provincial level. Their record of electoral success was unmatched outside of Alberta, where Peter Lougheed’s Conservatives had been in power since 1971 (and still are).
Ontario — contrary to what some Albertans may think — is no bastion of lefty-liberal latte-sippers. Since Confederation, Ontario’s Conservatives had won power by knowing the province better than their Liberal and New Democrat counterparts. Ontario, in the main, is a pretty conservative place. Economically, socially, Ontarians tend to favour less radical, and less progressive, political choices.
Dalton McGuinty — an Irish Catholic, born to a family of nine, married to his high school sweetheart — came to know this better than any of his Liberal predecessors. McGuinty lost the 1999 provincial election to the Mike Harris Conservatives, in part, because some around him believed downtown Toronto was a reflection of the rest of the province. It wasn’t. It will never be.
McGuinty learned this lesson well and rebuilt the Ontario Liberal Party into a centrist force — one that was socially progressive, but fiscally conservative. After crushing the Conservatives on election day 10 years ago Wednesday, McGuinty rarely strayed from the centre.
While the Ontario Conservatives careened off into policy extremism, McGuinty occupied their former ground — and attracted positive reviews along the way from progressive former Conservative leaders like Bill Davis, Ernie Eves and John Tory.
McGuinty departed a year ago this month, having led his party to back-to-back majorities, and a final victory that was one solitary seat short of a majority. The party he built is unlikely to recapture any of that anytime soon, or even to be re-elected to government in the spring.
McGuinty owed his success, commencing 10 years ago, to sticking to the middle of the road and keeping his ear finely attuned to what the average voter had to say. It’s a formula that worked for Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper. Undersell and overperform.
The world has changed plenty since 2003. When the historians write it all up, Dalton McGuinty will be remembered as a winner.