By PATRICK HUNTER
Margarett Best, the MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, has decided that she will not wait until the next election to step away from politics. This comes after being dropped from the cabinet of the Kathleen Wynne government. Best has reportedly not been at the legislature since the new session under Wynne began because she has been on medical leave.
I don’t know Best personally but I suspect that being the only former cabinet minister in McGuinty’s government to be demoted completely out of cabinet had to have had an impact on her psyche. Whether this had anything to do with her reasons for stepping down now is anyone’s guess.
Politics is a blood sport. It is a demanding undertaking just being an ordinary MPP. It is even tougher being a cabinet minister. The demands on your time and life can push you to the limit. I have seen it up close. From the moment you decide to seek a seat you are in campaign mode – through the election, through the work you do on behalf of your constituents, through the work you are expected to do within the legislature on behalf of your party, up to and including the next election. The cycle then begins again.
It is tough to do what you think you would want to do because you are stuck within the confines of party unity. If you cannot win your party or caucus over to your point of view, you may not be able to do the things that you promised on your way in. It is one of the reasons why, when you campaign, you do so on the party’s platform, not your own. And, as one would expect, discussions in caucus are expected to be kept a secret, almost as much as cabinet secrets.
Best is the fifth former cabinet minister to decide not to wait until the next election before quitting. The biggest name of the group, the former premier, Dalton McGuinty, had indicated that he would wait until the election, changed his mind and decided to bow out now rather than wait.
What this suggests to me is that Wynne, having survived so far with the aid of the New Democratic Party, is now taking a firmer hold on the reins. I can just imagine some of the “silent” wars that have gone on in caucus and privately. If I were in Wynne’s shoes, I would be royally peeved at the mess that McGuinty left, especially over the gas plant scandal. What that triggered was an unusual prorogation of the legislature, designed to conceal or hold in abeyance not only the real reasons for the cancellation but the incredibly mounting costs of those decisions.
In essence, Wynne, whether she was a part of the decision or not, inherited a considerable mess from which she is now tasked with extricating herself if she hopes to win an election. One can imagine the war of words that may have been exchanged between the former and the present premiers. So, it really comes as no surprise that McGuinty has been forced to walk.
One of the earlier surprises in the exodus, and one which perhaps signalled the upcoming movements, was Chris Bentley. Once touted as a potential leadership candidate, the former Attorney General was handed the energy portfolio to handle the gas plant cancellation and its aftermath. As we now know, that was a dirty hand to be dealt.
So, it is my belief that McGuinty was pushed to go now. The story of the cancellation will not go away, but Wynne hopes the persistence of the shadow of McGuinty in the background will fade by the time the election rolls around.
Wynne has, surprisingly, called all five by-elections, although Laurel Broten’s and Best’s decisions were only just revealed. That would suggest that the word had been given some time ago and they were just waiting until the House rose for the summer to go public. Running in the riding to replace Best is Mitzi Hunter (no relation to this writer), the CEO of CivicAction. This should give Wynne an opportunity to do some on-the-ground campaigning and exposure to help build trust and confidence in her leadership. It also gives her an opportunity to solidify her brand on the party in an effort to erase the cloud that McGuinty left.
It is, also, a bit of house-cleaning, which started with the appointment of the new cabinet. The current exodus may not be over but I suspect that those who may be unwilling or unable to – shall we say – endure Wynne’s style, have left or are now leaving.
To be fair, some of the latter departures may have come as a result of the sacrifices and positional discomforts the premier undertook to gain the NDP’s support. I am sure that there were hardliners in the outgoing group who thought that the leadership went too far in giving up as much as it did to gain Andrea Horwath’s legislative support, notwithstanding the consequences.
But, I suspect that Wynne decided to accept the short-term pain while hoping for long-term gain. She needed the time to establish her brand on the party so, like all politics, it is a roll of the dice.
As for Best, I wish her well as she returns to private life.