The Moth-like Politics of Dalton McGuinty

May 4, 2010

A debate has been raging around the office in recent days… OK, not so much raging as dribbling out in fits and starts. If not fits and starts, at least, bored bouts of opinionated discussion. And even the word ‘discussion’ gives too much a sense of engagement in the topic.

You see, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been pondering on Dalton McGuinty. So you understand the complete and utter ambivalence and passionate disinterest at the core of the subject. The room was far from electric when talking about the provincial premier.

The two sides can be summed up as follows: Dalton McGuinty, evil Machiavellian political operator masking as country bumpkin or just plain country bumpkin? Andy Taylor of Mayberry or Barney Fife? Andy Taylor of Duran Duran or Simon LeBon?

Frankly, I don’t buy the Machiavelli angle. There’s no convincing proof. Stephen Harper is nothing but Machiavellian with a little sliver of ideology to give him direction. Dalton McGuinty possesses neither. He doesn’t machinate nor does he even so much as dabble in the cold, cold waters of doctrinairism. Dalton McGuinty simply is.

It is my contention that Dalton McGuinty is the luckiest politician going. He took over his late father’s seat at Queen’s Park in 1990. He took over a dispirited provincial Liberal party who’d just been caught flat-footed by the Common Sense Revolution. He was fourth on both the 1st and 2nd ballots of the 1996 leadership convention before finally lurching to victory in the 5th and final ballot, ultimately backed by the Red Tory contingent of the party. He was summarily defeated in his first provincial election as Liberal leader by a far from popular Progressive Conservative government but retained the leadership reins with little struggle. He became premier next time out with the collapse of the Harris-Eves government under the weight of its own malicious incompetence.

As the premier of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty has successfully governed by being perceived as a better fiscal manager than the NDP and a more humane overseer of social services than the PCs. It is a baffling perception. The province has a record deficit. (Yeah, yeah. They’re dealing with a nasty recession. Where was that slack cut with Bob Rae back in the early 90s? Or the present city budget?) In terms of social spending and provincial downloading of services onto municipalities, well, the Liberals have hardly restored matters to anything close to pre-Harris Tory levels.

One of the most telling shortcomings of the McGuinty government is in terms of education funding. With the devastation of the provinces manufacturing sector, all the talk is about the new, high tech information age. For that to happen, we need heavy investment in education at all levels. Yet, Ontario remains last in higher education spending per capita of all the country’s provinces. Yes, that was a trend started under the Tories in the 90s but more than a decade later we are still last.

Excuses only go so far. For McGuinty, first it was that the preceding government had left a bigger deficit than expected. Now it’s the economic downturn. He’s trying his best but let’s be reasonable, people.

It is my hypothesis here that the success of Dalton McGuinty is due to the fact that he governs as a moth flies. His is an unpredictable, random approach that is near impossible to pin down. He zigs when you think he should zag. And like the moth, McGuinty has no control over it. It’s like punching water or putting the squeeze on jello.

Hey, don’t worry Toronto voters. If I’m elected premier I will upload all those services that mean nasty Mike Harris burdened you with. Eventually. Maybe. Transit City? You bet. Or maybe not. Times are tough all over. The cupboard’s bare.

You can never tell when the man will stand firm or fold up like a card table made of a deck of cards. He’s remained staunch in the growing outrage over the harmonized sales tax that’s coming down on us in July, possibly risking what should be an easy re-election. But with a minor peep of protest from a small contingent, he quickly backed off the proposed sex education grade school curriculum.

There’s no rhyme nor reason to it. It’s a governing style impossible to engage with rationally. At least with the stridently ideological bent of Mike Harris, you knew what to expect and (usually) prepare for the worst. With Dalton? He’ll stab you in the back without apparently even knowing he’s doing it. Apparently, it’s a method conducive to political longevity but impossibly difficult to work with or count on.

musingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat