When people leave high office, it is customary to say nice things about them after they are safely gone. Criticism is considered bad taste at that point in time. But former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s reign has been so dismal that it seems to me that sugar coating his career would be a crime. Aspiring leaders need to learn important lessons from his miserable example to avoid repeating his mistakes.
On the positive side, while I can freely call Barack Obama a hard-left socialist, who is far more left-wing than most people acknowledge, this is not the case for McGuinty. He is a much more benign political archetype. He is a classic nanny state’er. His nickname even acknowledges that: Premier Dad.
Which brings me to his first failings: nanny state-ism. I suppose this is his one ‘failure’ where reasonable people can disagree on whether it is a failure or not. Lowering the allowable blood alcohol limit for drivers, banning pesticides and numerous other pesky safety laws, all of these things probably incrementally increased the safety factor for the already unprecedented safe lives of Ontarians. But to me, these things are a lot of PII (Preoccupation with Inconsequential Increments). They also enervate and enfeeble the soul. I’m with Helen Keller when she said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Past a certain point, after our basic safety standards have been met, more safety only stifles our freedom and saps our vitality, as the law of diminishing returns ramps up and hysterical cowardice is allowed to flourish.
One thing that reasonable people shouldn’t be able to disagree on though is his incompetent management of the provincial government. E-health, the Ornge air ambulance scandal, the costly cancellation of the gas generator plants, and a huge sole-source wind generator contract to Samsung - a company that never produced a wind turbine before: all these fiascos happened on his watch. In a sense, they give McGuinty his one positive achievement, if we may call it that: he single-handedly discredited the notion that big government is caring, compassionate and helps the needy. Dalton McGuinty has taught us by example that a large government is merely an incompetent, blundering, wasteful and corrupt behemoth.
I think though that his biggest sin is that he consciously and deliberately tapped into democracy’s greatest vice: that people can vote themselves more of their own money. McGuinty’s political strategy was simple. He bought labour peace by giving the provincial labour unions whatever they wanted, while also buying off every special interest group that crossed his path. And he was successful - for a while. But as Margaret Thatcher so memorably put it, “the trouble with socialism is that you run out of other people’s money.” And so he did. Staring at a $13 billion deficit, he could no longer satisfy the demands of the teachers, the shock troops in his initial 2003 victory over the hapless red Tory, Ernie Eves. When the teachers turned on him, he had no plan B. He simply called it a career, comfortable in letting others clean up his mess - and take the blame for all the pain that this will necessarily cause.
Basically, Premier Dad got likkered up and blew Junior’s college fund at the track.