They pulled out all the stops for Dalton McGuinty.
At least, it looked as though, in the early stages of last night's tribute to the Premier ahead of this weekend's Liberal leadership convention, that the assembled were going to be treated to one helluva toast. You'd expect no less for the guy who took the party to the promised land twice and fell just one seat short of a third majority.
McGuinty got some rock star treatment alright. Lights and family movies on the big screens stage left and right.
But there would be no balloons released from the rafters of the Mattamy Centre when it was all said and done. No big ticker tape send off. Perhaps that's the way McGuinty would want it - an unassuming goodbye for an unassuming Premier.
The tribute had a family feel. Daughter and son MC'ed the event. And there were touching moments, to be sure - the Preem as a young man in family movies and the stories of "chuckles" nights with the kids., when a blanket would be spread on the TV room floor for popcorn and a movie, or games.
But there were some awkward turns, too, amid the entertainment. Crooner Matt Dusk's I Did It My Way didn't seem a fitting serenade for a guy whose hallmark has always been about emphasizing the "we," not the "I." Not sure who picked that one. Was it because the writer of said song, Paul Anka, is an Ottawa boy just like the Premier?
It didn't end there. The scrolling of Liberal government accomplishments on the projection screen while Charlie Major performed was another head scratcher. The song was a dedication from the Preem's wife, Terry, after all. Seemed like a rude interruption to be itemizing everything McGuinty's done for the party during what was supposed to be a private moment.
And then there was the anti-climactic climax, McGuinty's speech. It was no barnburner. Surprising, really, for a guy who later in his political life had become quite a good public orator. Odd, too, that McGuinty couldn't summon something more rousing.
There was one flourish when McGuinty reminded the assembled about how the Libs got into power in the first place. It was not by practicing the politics of division and cynicism, the "race to the bottom," he called it, of his predecessor, Mike Harris.
But that was it for the fireworks, wise parting words, at a time when for Liberals, there's much to think about. Winning back teachers, who were huddled in the cold outside protesting this government's move to take away labour rights.
And Tim Hudak's hordes beating down the door, threatening to lay waste to some hard fought gains should he do the unthinkable and win a mandate. The PC leader took to the Twitterverse during McGuinty's speech, making his nasty presence felt. Hudak's been busy lately giving in to his party's baser instincts with talk of gutting the education system and cutting people off welfare.
There are big questions, too, about which direction the party should be headed [http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=189186]. But the word "renewal," the buzz word of this leadership campaign, was only uttered once by McGuinty.
Maybe the Preem wanted to leave the politicking to the candidates, who take to the stage today to lay out their visions. Or, maybe he didn't want conventioneers to have to wait any longer for the hospitality suites. Hard to say. But as grand finales go, this was a tepid as they get. The goodbye video posted on the Liberal party website has more oomph.
The setting was right for something inspirational. It was in this very building back in 96, when it was known as Maple Leaf Gardens, that McGuinty did the improbable, coming from fourth on the first ballot to become Liberal leader.
Truth be told, he was a bit of a stiff back then. That may be putting it mildly. But he bided his time in opposition, lost the flip hairdo, and learned the ropes.
Some might say McGuinty was lucky, the political beneficiary of the fallout from the Common Sense Devolution. After the slash and burn of those years, and the whiff of Bob Rae's great failure still fresh in the electorate's nostrils, McGuinty wasn't a difficult choice for Ontarians to make.
The legacy left is a mixed one [http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=189187]. After nine years at the helm, there's been undeniable progress on the education file, but all of the goodwill earned over the years now gone in a bitter fight with teachers unions over Bill 115.
There've been steps forward, too, on the environmental front. Reducing Ontario's dependence on coal is an historic achievement. But that too has been overshadowed by the billions being poured into nukes. And the McGuinty government's mishandling of the wind power file, which has given rise to stiff rural opposition.
But perhaps McGuinty's most disappointing failure has been on the social assistance file. The downturn in the economy can be blamed in part. By any measure, however, the McGuinty scorecard is a big incomplete on the anti-poverty front.
Ontario has gone from Canada's richest province, to have-not status. When manufacturing jobs left with the Great Depression, McGuinty did what the bond rating services wanted him to do - cut the deficit. A more courageous Premier would have opted for bold moves, maybe make good on those promises to push wind power as the new auto industry.
But who could blame McGuinty at a time when there's increasingly little faith in government as a force for good? Under those circumstances, it's easy to see why political self-preservation becomes an overarching consideration for any government in power. McGuinty hinted at it himself in his speech when he said winning isn't everything, except in politics it is, if you want to get the things you believe in done. "Get the big things right," as McGuinty likes to say.
And it's fair to say that his government has been guilty of opting for political expediency on more than one occasion when the going got tough.
His resignation was hasty and contrived [http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=189106], coming during a tumultuous time for his minority government when it was teetering and looked like a non-confidence vote could bring it down any day. For a finishing stroke, that one was as calculating as they come.
There are also those who say McGuinty was changed by successive majority governments, forgot what it was like in the opposition benches, the art of political compromise.
But then, McGuinty wouldn't be the first politician guided by blinded by the rightness of his cause. It wasn't always pretty, at times. [http://www.nowtoronto.com/news/story.cfm?content=187429] Heck, it wasn't very entertaining.
It might have been a different story if he'd won his third successive majority, been allowed to finish his career on his terms. Maybe then McGuinty might have charted a truly progressive course, unencumbered by the delicacies of minority rule. We'll never know. A visionary? Not quite.
The one thing that can be said with certainty is that McGuinty, Premier Dad, was always there to offer a hug and words of assurance, be a calming influence, just like in those family videos. Only, it wasn't always enough