09.30.2013 06:40 PM

In Tuesday’s Sun: McGuinty, ten years later

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.

11 Comments

  1. Mark Dewdney says:

    Timing, as they say, is everything.
    Chretien had Martin to hold the bag, Ernie Eves did the same for Mike Harris, and guess who gets to reap what McG hath sown?
    Riiiiight.

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Harper necessarily stuck to the middle road to stay alive politically. And then he blew it and lurched to the right upon winning a majority. And suddenly 32-33-34% unexpectedly became his party’s best friend.

  3. Robin says:

    Dalton McGuinty is smart and shrewd. As Jean Chretien replied when scrummed by the media and asked “what makes a good leader” at the 2003 Liberal Leadership convention in 2003: “A good leader wins!”

    • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

      Same comment for Liberal policy: A good (Liberal) policy wins. There is no principle but power; no metric but winning or losing; no policy that cannot be abandoned (Green Shift) or subsumed (power plant closings) and no long term cost to Canada worth paying that cannot be justified in the pursuit of power.

      I sincerely believe McGuinty knows he had a role in Caledonia, but chose to abandon the people there rather than risk his image.

  4. steve says:

    Yes Warren he did win, but he failed to control events. I can never understand why he did not blame the Tories for E health and Ornge. The power plant scandals IMHO smell. The cancelattion charges were $50 mill. but through the magic of P3 we end up at a half a billion at least. Why did nobody ever come out and explain the facts?

  5. Ottawa Civil Servant says:

    “fiscally conservative. ” !!!!

    He doubled the spending by the province.
    Ehealth, Ornge, OLG, OPG all added together did not equal the sytemic deficit he dug us into for even one year, let alone the hangover from his ten years. 2018 is an optimistic return to balance, which I feel will require a sharper knife than Wynne has in her drawer.

    Fiscally conservative? Maybe in a Brian Mulroney sort of way.

    • Kev says:

      Doubled? That word does not mean whatever you think it means.

      • Ottawa Civil Servant says:

        My apologies, spending almost doubled and was geared to continue rising:

        “Yet, despite all that is said about California’s finances in the media and financial markets,
        Ontario is in much worse shape.

        Back in 2002-03, the fiscal year before the governing Liberals took office, Ontario’s net debt (assets minus liabilities) stood at $132.6-billion. In the ensuing decade, the province’s debt ballooned by almost 78% to $235.6-billion (2011-12). Most worrying, however, is that if Ontario continues on its current path (status quo in terms of spending and revenues), its debt will balloon to over $550-billion (66% of GDP) by the end of the decade (2019-20).” http://opinion.financialpost.com/2013/02/04/worse-than-california/

  6. Timmy Horton says:

    “fiscally conservative” ?!?!
    What does it tell you when Bob Rae is no longer held up by commentators or economists as “Exhibit A” when discussing disastrous Ontario governments?

    “When historians write it all up, Dalton McGuinty will be remembered as a winner.” ?!?!
    McParland said it best … “Dalton McGuinty was never likely to be hailed as one of Canada’s great premiers. Like a number of other politicians – Jean Chretien comes to mind – his record was largely tied to his ability to get elected, rather than what he did with his power. Both were fortunate in their opponents. Neither left in a blaze of glory, though McGuinty’s departure takes the cake for ugly farewells. The former premier who stepped down rather than answer for the purely partisan decision to close two gas-fired power plants at enormous cost, is giving up his seat to escape being bothered with further questions. It’s a decision that puts a cap on a performance that must rate among the most squalid and self-serving in recent Canadian history.”

  7. headmaster says:

    Kudos to Warren for not obliterating the posted responses.
    No kudos whatsoever for the article…
    Extreme blind partisanship is an extreme understatement.

  8. Kev says:

    The best part of the 2003 Ontario election is it was the last time I ever heard the 2003 Ontario Liberal campaign song. >>shudddderrrr<<

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