As if anger over prorogation isn’t enough, expect a month of swirling rumours up to the November 23 submission deadline about who in Ontario’s Liberal Party have set their sights on the leadership and on replacing departing premier, Dalton McGuinty.
Almost as soon as McGuinty made his announcements of retirement and prorogation of the Legislature on October 15, names began to be drawn up from among cabinet ministers.
Among them, hapless Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who is being made to answer for over $250 million in energy plants cancellation fees; Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who previously ran for the leadership and who says he is not running this time; Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, Housing Minster Kathleen Wynne and Health Minister Deb Matthews, saddled with questions of spending indiscretions at that ministry.
But it may not be enough that McGuinty is stepping down. Taking a page from the federal Liberals, Ontario Liberals may have to consider someone who does not appear as having been connected to the old cabal. One name that has been mentioned is Gerard Kennedy, who came second to McGuinty in the Liberals 1996 leadership convention.
Whoever the party’s membership choose at their leadership convention on the weekend of January 25 will also have to present a motivating enough plan to woo back an electorate that has been disaffected for some time with McGuinty’s blue Liberal agenda.
The Liberals can only hope that the current confrontation with teachers’ unions will be settled before their new leader takes the helm. Otherwise, they can expect to be occupying Opposition seats next time around as the unions line up against them.
To hold on as premier, the new leader will have to embody a definitive Liberal platform, whatever that is these days. Furthermore, with an eye to the inevitable provincial election to follow, that person will also have to present a strong yet pragmatic plan for job creation in urban Ontario, specifically Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area where provincial elections are won or lost.
Statistics Canada’s most recent unemployment rate for this province is 7.9 per cent, but in Toronto almost one in 10 is out of work. The worst hit areas line up with the areas that also are underserved by public transit, in the northeast and northwest reaches. These are the same areas that gave the biggest show of support to Rob Ford, a Conservative, and put him in office as Toronto’s mayor.
The new leader will need to have a plan for those who have been unemployed long-term and dependent on social assistance support that has dropped to substantively less than even during the previous Conservative era when payments were cut by 21 per cent.
He or she will also need to rebuild confidence in the Liberal party in rural Ontario, where many feel they have been largely forgotten by the Liberals and are not even understood by the government at Queen’s Park.
Liberal party members will have to be clear when casting their leadership vote that if they want their party to have a chance at staying in power it has to appear fresh and new. That also goes for the cabinet, because it’s a safe bet that if it looks like the old cabinet minus McGuinty, it will be on its way out.
McGuinty has received criticism from within his own caucus for his decision to prorogate the Legislature until after a new leader is chosen, but he has long shown strong political instincts, including understanding when it’s time to leave. Now that he has made it clear, and rightly so, that he is not leaving Ontario politics to seek the federal Liberal leadership, perhaps he will use those same instincts as a resource in the pending leadership selection process.
It has already been noted elsewhere that the Liberals are divided going forward, so they should take a lesson from what has happened to the federal Liberals – once the ‘natural governing party of Canada’ that now sits at third place in Parliament, in part because a divided ‘Big Red Tent’ lost its way in choosing its leaders.
Ontario wants a pragmatic, yet inspiring moderate at the helm. The question is, can the Liberals deliver?