I am trying to remember if there was any Canadian political leader who, upon succeeding a successful incumbent, secures a stable majority government upon his first try. (Yes, there was Pierre Trudeau, but he was a special case.)
Kim Campbell? Under her leadership the Tories got blown away in 1993. Paul Martin? Minority in 2004, out on his ear in 2006. Ernie Eves? Nope.
The problem is that the new leader winds up paying for the political sins of the old one, coupled with the fact that he or she usually has to deal with a seasoned Opposition. And for that reason alone I would not want to be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.
Let’s give him some credit: Mr. McGuinty is a smart politician. More to the point, he knew how to survive. And he must have seen, rather clearly, that the conditions that enabled him to win his second majority (despite having admitted to lying about raising taxes) were no longer there. The provincial economy is still wobbly from the events of 2008; the minority situation has emboldened the Opposition on both sides of the spectrum, and ORNGE and the power plant decisions show a government with lax control (to put it kindly) of its public service. It was a situation, simply put, where he had less control of his destiny.
Does his resignation mean the anger, directed at him as the main man who speaks for government, will dissipate? I don’t think so. If anything, I suspect the electorate will add the emotional charge of “cowardice” to the slate, accusing him of not wanting to face the music for the decisions he made during this mandate. And that charge will be exacerbated if it turns out the next Liberal leader (and, subsequently, premier of Ontario) turns out to be of a lesser hue. (I’m willing to bet a nickel that no one is willing nor able to identify a Liberal in the Ontario cabinet who’d make a capable premier. Anyone?)
When they write up the history, Dalton will likely go down as a successful politician, but a middling leader. And the odds are pretty good that he’ll be held responsible for reducing the provincial Liberals to a rump.