Jumping ship may have worked for Dalton McGunity but history suggets next premier won’t fare as well

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Dalton McGuinty's resignation on Monday evening leaves a huge gap at the helm of the Ontario Liberal party.

As one pundit put it, 'there are no Justin Trudeaus' lurking in the wings of the provincial party.'

Nevertheless, Liberal insiders are optimistic — at least publicly.

On the Sun News Network, Warren Kinsella suggested that a new leader would be reelected as premier in a general election just like in Alberta and Manitoba.

"We've seen what happened in Alberta [with Alison Redford] when that took place. Everybody was writing the obituary of the PCs there and they came back," he said on Monday.

"The same thing came back with the Manitoba NDP. Selinger came in [and] they won a massive majority. I think the chances of the Ontario Liberals is pretty darn good."

Those premiers, however, are the exception and not the rule.

Bill Davis who ruled Ontario from 1971 to 1985 resigned as PC leader while riding high in the polls and was replaced by Frank Miller. Miller won a minority in 1985 but lost power to Liberal premier David Peterson.  Miller, it's been said, was dogged by Davis' late-term policy decision to fund Catholic schools.

Also in Ontario, premier Mike Harris stepped-down in 2001 after his popularity took a beating in wake of the Walkerton tragedy and cuts to social services.  Ernie Eves replaced Harris as premier in a PC leadership race in 2002 but wasn't able to shake-off Harris' baggage and was defeated in a general election 18 months later.

And federal examples don't bode well for the provincial Liberals either.

When Pierre Trudeau stepped down, John Turner took over as Liberal leader and lost the subsequent election to Brian Mulroney. When Mulroney jumped ship, Kim Campbell and the PCs won only 2 seats in the 1993 election.

Jean Chretien left 24 Sussex in 2003 with the Liberals enjoying a strong majority. Dogged by the sponsorship scandal, Paul Martin took the Liberal helm, won a minority government in 2004 but lost power in 2006.

New leaders of sitting governments struggle in subsequent elections — especially when those parties have baggage. And, from Ornge, to eHealth, to the cancellation power plants, the McGuinty Liberals have a lot of baggage.

If history is any indication, it looks as if McGuinty's goodbye is also the Ontario Liberal's goodbye.