Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

McGuinty departure creates unwanted uncertainty in Ontario

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Dalton McGuinty may have led the Ontario Liberal party for 16 years, but he showed Monday night he had one final surprise up his sleeve. His resignation and proroguing of the legislature came as a shock to just about everyone.

The Twitterverse and blogosphere were full of comments such as: "Didn't see that one coming."

After all, it was just months ago that he won his third term in government, albeit it with a reduced minority. Why go through all that just to resign shortly after, and for personal reasons?

Perhaps a health issue is involved. Perhaps he is simply done with dealing with the stress and strain of leading an embattled government, facing a non-confidence vote at any time.

Or maybe the cynics are right, and he saw the writing on the wall and wants to exit as gracefully as possible with minimum additional damage to his listing government.

Maybe it's exactly as he said Monday night, and he's leaving because it's time for renewal.

These and countless other theories -- maybe even some facts -- will play out in the days to come. But in the meantime, there are a few things we know for sure.

There's no doubt McGuinty was nearing the end of his effective shelf life as a premier. But his departure now, with a host of issues unresolved, sets the scene for a prolonged period of uncertainty, which is not what Ontario's economy needs right now.

If his resignation was due to personal or family circumstances, that's one thing, but if the timing was for partisan reasons of damage control, he didn't do Ontarians any favours.

It's not a good time to be a Liberal leader in Canada. The federal party is facing a leadership vacuum. Quebec's Jean Charest stayed on too long and outlived his shelf life, and his party paid the price in the recent election.

British Columbia Liberal Leader Christie Clark has apparently mused about changing the name of her party to dump some of the baggage associated with the current moniker.

And the contenders for McGuinty's job -- Deb Matthews, Chris Bentley, Eric Hoskins, Glen Murray and Dwight Duncan have all been mentioned -- will face huge uphill challenge to revive the party's fortunes in time for an election.

What if they fail? What options do Ontarians have other than the Liberals? Andrea Horwath's NDP has made big strides in support, but they're still the NDP -- they'll raise corporate taxes and won't deal with spiralling public-sector wage costs.

Tim Hudak's Conservatives are increasingly credible, but his personal leadership standing remains weak, and he's again haunted by the spectre of a hidden social agenda on matters such as abortion rights.

And if teachers and other public-sector unions think they had problems with the Liberals, just wait until they get a taste of what Tim Hudak has in store. They may yet pine for McGuinty.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 17, 2012 A13

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