As political shots out of the dark go, Dalton McGuinty's announcement last night that he will be resigning as Premier has to rate as one of the most surprising. But it wasn't completely unpredictable.
No point in twisting ourselves into knots trying to figure this one out. It's simple, really, and complicated at the same time. McGuinty is getting out now because the getting out is good, showing once again that the Teflon Premier's political instincts are better than most pundits give him credit for.
The Premier's announcement was accompanied by another - that he's asked the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the Legislature.
Officially, McGuinty says that decision was made because, according to his assessment, work at Queen's Park was grinding to a halt, the political bickering "generating more heat than light," in his words, amid the ongoing gas plants controversy/scandal dogging the Liberals.
Now the pesky questions about why the Liberals' decided to shutdown and move the plants at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers, and then tried to cover up the mess, won't be taking up the six-o'clock news. And, Libs are hoping, will be a distant memory when the Leg resumes by next spring.
Indeed. It was only a few hours before McGuinty's announcement that two of his ministers admitted in the House that they did not intentionally mean to mislead the public when they said that all relevant records related to the gas plant moves had been released, when they hadn't.
The optics of shutting down the Leg may not be good for the Libs, at least in the short term. But neither was continuing on the current course of daily distractions caused by the controversy. Tactically, it was a brilliant move.
More importantly, proroguing the Leg gives the party time to hold a leadership convention, find a successor and give McGuinty's replacement, whomever that will be, time to get their feet wet before an election, which certainly won't happen now for at least another year.
But there were other political considerations prompting McGuinty to pull the plug.
The lingering questions about ORNGE, the air ambulance service awash in charges of financial irregularities and the subject of an OPP investigation, weren't going away.
The government's plans to impose a wage freeze on public sector workers, which the Libs were counting on the PCs to support, had also reached an impasse. And then there were the polls showing both the PCs and NDP well ahead.
Make no mistake. The opposition were watching those numbers carefully, the Libs too. Waiting for the moment when public confidence in the government would reach critical mass, and force an election. It was getting near that point. McGuinty had no choice but to stanch the bleeding.
McGuinty told reporters that there was "no particular magic" in the timing of his stepping down. He talked about his daughter's wedding influencing his decision. In truth, governing had become untenable. For McGuinty, both personally and politically, time was also running out.
There were rumblings around the Liberal leadership review a couple of weeks back in Ottawa about his future.
There were bitter feelings about the mess-up in Kitchener-Waterloo, and the decision of his advisers not to hand eventual NDP winner Catherine Fife the Lib nomination in the riding, which left the party a seat short of a virtual majority. Oh what could have been.
McGuinty emerged from the leadership review with an 85 per cent approval rate among party members.
But despite the impressive number, there was the bigger question: could the party really go into another election with McGuinty at the helm? The answer to most, including McGuinty, was obvious.
If the Libs are to have a fighting chance, then there will have to be a new face offered voters.
McGuinty had to see the writing on that wall. He alluded at the very end of his presser Monday to his responsibility to "renew the leadership of our party."
The Queen's Park press corp, however, wanted to talk about reports that were emerging as he spoke that the pieces had already been put in place for McGuinty to take a run at the federal Liberal leadership.
A federal Liberal run for McGuinty is not out of the cards. Brother David, the federal member for Ottawa-South, has a base. And in fact has been himself rumoured as a possible candidate in the past.
McGuinty left that question of his future hanging in the air. As the Liberal brand goes, he's pretty much it in a country that's tilting decidedly left or right.
Who could have guessed it would come to this? That the former family lawyer with flip up hair and awkward comportment, who came out of nowhere to win the Ontario party leadership, would/could represent big-L liberalism's last hope?
We may not have seen the last of McGuinty. The political strategists who ran his war room the last three elections, are advising supporters to sit by their phones. McGuinty may just be calling about a federal run.