I’m not looking for votes: former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty skewers partisan political games

Matthew Coutts
Daily Brew
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty spoke to reporters Wednesday, nine days after he announced he was stepping down and proroguing the legislature.

Former Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty returned to the political battlefield on Tuesday, tasked with answering questions from a commission investigating the costly and politically opportune gas plant cancellations.

He did that, sure. Although maybe not to the degree the opposition-led commission would have preferred.

But the real fireworks came when McGuinty dismissed the affair as partisan gamesmanship, waxing poetic about the state of politics in Canada and citing ancient Roman statesman Cato the Elder for some reason.

"We need to understand this exercise for what it truly is. It is not a genuine effort on the part of the opposition to seek out the truth. They are partisan," McGuinty said of the commission during a post-appearance press conference.

He added later: "I'm not looking for votes now. I think it is important to talk about these things."

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It was a gamey return to Queen's Park by a man who resigned his seat earlier this month and began actively straying from the public spotlight long before, as his government was hammered over the way it handled the cancellation of two unpopular gas plants.

The gas plant cancellations and their $585 million price tag have been a long-running saga in Ontario politics. The latest chapter involves a report from the privacy commissioner that revealed the illegal deletion of gas plant-related emails by members of McGuinty’s staff.

Commissioner Ann Cavoukian did say there is no reason to believe McGuinty ordered the deletions, but was critical in pretty much every other conceivable way.

Which is why McGuinty was called back to testify in front of the committee on Tuesday. Although to hear him tell it, it was so the Conservative and NDP opposition could try to score political points.

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And how does ole' Cato the Elder fit into all of this? Marcus Porcius Cato was a Roman statesman circa 200 B.C. who was honest about his loathing for the rival Carthage Empire. McGuinty wishes today’s politics were so transparent.

Here are highlights from McGuinty’s Tuesday press conference.

On Cato the Elder

"Cato the Elder hated Carthage with a passion, but he was very honest about it. At the end of every speech he would say, 'Carthage must be destroyed.' It would be great if at the end of every question inside the committee put to us by the opposition members, they concluded by saying, 'The Liberal government must be destroyed.' I would appreciate that level of honesty and candor."

On reasoning behind opposition’s attack:

"Premier Kathleen Wynne is wearing very well. She is being received very well by the people of Ontario. If I was sitting in opposition, that would make me frustrated. It would make me do everything I could to ensure I did not pass a single bill between now and the election."

On why he won’t apologize:

"I think I have said many, many times over that I regret that we made the decision to locate those plants in those sites. I regret we did not listen to the opposition when they first raised objections. I regret that it ended up costing as much as it does, But ultimately it is the right decision."

On why cancelling gas plants wasn’t partisan:

"There was unanimity in that one. Cancelling those plants, we were all on the same place on that one."

On his legacy:

"When it comes to legacies, I'll let history deal with those kinds of things. What I have tried to do is what I think is the right thing to do in all circumstances. Sometimes it is popular, sometimes it is cumbersome, sometimes it is troublesome. Sometimes it is not.

On PCs calling for a police investigation:

"Calling in the police has now become a political tactic. ‘I've got a concern, I've got a complaint. You gotta get in here.’ The ultimate result and outcome of this investigation, I've very confident of what it is going to be... no grounds for laying charges of any kind.