Photo by Michelle Siu/ CP Photo
Best for the provincial Liberals not to wax melancholic over the shocking resignation of their humble leader, Dalton McGuinty, even if he did throw himself on the cross for the party's sake.
As exit strategies go, the timing couldn't have been better, or more politically expedient. His proroguing of the legislature also pre-empts opposition manoeuvring to force an early election. Brilliant.
McGuinty had been looking for an out. His exit changes the channel and resets the narrative for a minority government whose hold on power was more tenuous with each passing day. It's a party in need of new energy.
But let's dispense with that talk of a federal leadership run.
Some in the party are actively trying to recruit McGuinty for a federal run, including a few of the backroom boys who orchestrated his three successive election victories.
He's got the biggest Liberal machine in Canada behind him, and a decade of government experience. He's a proven winner. None of the other expected Liberal leadership candidates can say that.
That's the theory, and it's true. Still, it would be surprising if McGuinty went for it. There are practical obstacles, the most obvious the fact that the leadership convention to choose McGuinty's successor will be taking place at about the same time as the federal run-off in April.
He's still premier. He hasn't given up his seat, and in fact talked after his announcement on Monday, October 15, about continuing to represent his riding until a successor is chosen.
Call it mission accomplished for McGuinty, who, had he waited a little bit longer to step down, might not have been able to make as clean a break. Or a break at all on his terms, the way both opposition parties have been breathing down his neck and spoiling for an election. He might have had no choice but to stay on, reluctantly.
Oh, sure, there were still some in his inner circle who continued to believe he could win re-election, again. But even they knew a majority wasn't in the cards.
The coating of invincibility has worn thin on the Teflon premier, who's recently racked up more political defeats than victories. The controversies dogging the party - contempt allegations against high-ranking ministers, ORNGE and other P3 fiascos, the fights with teachers and public sector unions - can no longer be ridden out.
The decision to pull the plug and get on with party renewal sooner rather than later was a no-brainer. There were rumblings at the party leadership review in Ottawa at the end of September. McGuinty walked out of that gathering with an 85 per cent approval rating.
But bitter feelings lingered over the by-election loss in Kitchener-Waterloo, and the decision of McGuinty's advisers not to hand eventual NDP winner Catherine Fife the Lib nomination, which left the party a seat short of a virtual majority. Oh, what might have been.
There was a PR question, too: could the party go into another election with McGuinty at the helm? The answer was obvious. If the Libs were to have a fighting chance, voters had to be offered a new face.
Who will that new person be? That's the tricky part. Someone from the party's left or right wing?
Kathleen Wynne, the preem's point person on the Toronto file, is an early favourite, and not just because she's a formidable campaigner. Her claim to fame on that score includes taking on former Tory leader John Tory in his own backyard of Don Valley West and laying an electoral beating on him.
But Wynne also represents something bigger: a chance for the Grits to recapture the political middle. What better way to do that than with a progressive-minded female leader? Win with Wynne? Word is, she's already assembled a leadership team.
Before you go writing letters to the editor to argue that someone like Wynne can't carry the rural vote, consider what rural domination has done to PC leader Hudak. That's right, he's still leader of the Opposition, and going nowhere fast if the stories of an internal mutiny and mass exodus of staff are to be believed.
Fact is, if you can't win Toronto, you can't win Ottawa, London or Windsor and you can't win Ontario and you can't be premier. The urban vote carries Ontario.
Kathleen Wynne as leadership contender good for Liberal optics.
Wynne would certainly change the dynamic where the biggest threat to the Libs is concerned. Right now that's the NDP and leader Andrea Horwath, who are riding high in opinion polls and in the key battleground of Toronto.
Those talking up Wynne as part of a progressive "renaissance" for the party envision as many as three women possibly vying for the leadership, including Health Minister Deb Matthews and, a longer shot, former Windsor MPP Sandra Pupatello.
Those optics could help put a little liberal back in the Liberal brand that under McGuinty acquired a Tory-blue blush when necessary. The Liberals are already doing some tidy spinning about being on the cutting edge of an emerging political trend. See Pauline Marois in Quebec, BC premier Christy Clark and Alberta's Alison Redford.
It's a saleable pitch - give or take a public sector wage freeze - especially among those in the party who want to put to rest any talk of a possible merger with the NDP. There are still party strategists pushing that alternative, but it may no longer be necessary for political survival.
It's expected that McGuinty's departure will lead to a noticeable thinning of the party's right-wing ranks (fingers crossed), with a few of the longer-serving Lib MPPs of that ilk deciding not to seek re-election.
Best evidence of that: it's no longer a given that the two leadership candidates most closely identified with that wing of the party, Energy Minister Chris Bentley and Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, are vying for McGuinty's job, as was widely expected.
Bentley, who is wearing the gas plants storm despite McGuinty's best efforts to take some of the blame, will have contempt charges hanging over his head when the House reconvenes. That's because of his (maybe inadvertent, depending on your perspective) failure to release documents relating to the cost of cancelling and relocating two plants. A rather inauspicious way to begin a run for the leadership.
For Duncan, meanwhile, a Bay Street job and a six-figure salary may look more tempting. No telling how he'll come out smelling from the wage freeze deal he's been tasked with cutting with the province's half-million public sector workers. For that pickle he has Dalton to thank.