Dalton McGuinty had just completed his press conference, explaining why, after 22 years in public life, 16 of them as leader of the Ontario Liberals, and nine of them as premier of Ontario, he was stepping down.
As he walked jacketless from the Government Caucus Room toward his office at the opposite end of the second floor of the Ontario Parliament Buildings, he hugged his wife Terri and watched a phalanx of photographers blast him with their flashes.
After the flashes died down, I sidled up to the premier.
“You surprised?” he asked me.
“Nope,” I responded. “Absolutely shocked.”
“Good,” he said. “That’s what I was going for.”
The timing of Dalton McGuinty’s departure, announced at a hastily called caucus meeting this past October, was one of the best kept secrets in Ontario political history. Almost everyone seemed to be caught off guard.
Ever since McGuinty fell one seat short of a majority government in the October 2011 election, I was convinced he wouldn’t leave Ontario politics until he moved his party back into majority territory. It’s one of those things premiers want to do: if you can, you leave your party in the best possible state before handing over the keys to your successor.
After all, that’s what another premier, who elicits a lot of comparisons to McGuinty, did more than 30 years ago. After William Davis won a majority government in his first election in 1971, he lost it in the 1975 election and couldn’t get it back in the 1977 campaign either. But Davis stuck around, won his way back into the hearts of those who’d previously abandoned him, and captured a fourth consecutive election victory in 1981, returning his Tories to majority status.
I thought for sure McGuinty would try to do the same thing on his fourth try. He’d already made history by becoming the first Liberal premier in 128 years to three-peat. Why not go for four wins in a row, as Davis did?
Instead, he surprised us all by resigning, saying simply, “it’s time.”
Like any office holder who’s been around for a while, McGuinty can look back at his run with some pride and some shame. For eight years, the Liberals had a pretty solid story to tell when it came to education. They rebuilt positive relations with the teachers, whose morale had plummeted during the Mike Harris years (1995-2002). They implemented full-day kindergarten, reduced the dropout rate, invested more in post-secondary education than any government since John Robarts’ in the 1960s, and got test scores up so much, they’re now the highest in the English-speaking world.
McGuinty always said he wanted to be known as “The Education Premier,” a claim objective observers say he can make with considerable justification.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Ottawa Citizen website: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/Dalton+McGuinty+sudden+resignation+announcement+biggest+story+wild+year+Ontario+politics+writes+Steve+Paikin/7744749/story.html