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Premier Dalton McGuinty makes his farewell speech at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto where the Ontario Liberal leadership convention gets underway on Jan. 25, 2013. Tonight there will be a tribute to Mr. McGuinty before electing a new party leader on Saturday. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Premier Dalton McGuinty makes his farewell speech at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto where the Ontario Liberal leadership convention gets underway on Jan. 25, 2013. Tonight there will be a tribute to Mr. McGuinty before electing a new party leader on Saturday. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

In farewell speech, McGuinty reminds Liberals of their winning record and achievements Add to ...

Dalton McGuinty spent his final hours as Premier of Ontario reminding Liberals of their winning record and policy achievements on the opening night of the convention that will choose his successor.

Standing on a stage in Maple Leaf Gardens – the same venue in which he was elected Liberal leader in 1996 – Mr. McGuinty joked that, on that long-ago night, no one was more afraid of what was to come than him. When he won on the fifth ballot, his wife Terri leaned over and told him, “You said you weren’t going to win,” he recalled.

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The evening was vintage Mr. McGuinty: he was surrounded by many of his nine siblings, his mother, wife and four adult children. His only regret, he said, is that his father, Dalton, Sr., never saw him enter public life. The Premier was first elected as an MPP in 1990 in Ottawa South, a seat held by his father who died suddenly shovelling snow that same year.

Mr. McGuinty rhymed off a number of achievements under his nine-year stewardship. His government is well on its way to replacing all of the province’s dirty, coal-fired electricity plants with cleaner sources of power, creating 30,000 new jobs in the process. Waiting times for many cataract removal and other surgeries are down dramatically, and the province’s public schools are among the best in the world.

However, Mr. McGuinty made no mention of the ongoing labour strife with the province’s elementary and secondary teachers, many of whom were protesting outside the Gardens.

The last government, he said, referring to the Progressive Conservatives, had Ontario in a “race to the bottom.” Now, he said, “we’re in a race for the top.”

But it was when he addressed his wife and children directly that the normally stoic Mr. McGuinty became a touch emotional.

“You gave me the strength I needed by making our home a place where premiers and politics count for nothing, but where being a dad and a husband count for everything.”

Before he took the stage, two of Mr. McGuinty’s children, his daughter Carleen and Dalton, Jr., told anecdotes about life with their father. On one occasion, his son recounted, the elder Mr. McGuinty kept hitting mulligans on the golf course. When his son told him, “Dad, you can’t take that many mulligans,” he said Mr. McGuinty replied: “As long as I’m paying for this golf, I’ll hit as many mulligans as I like – and that’s Premier Dad.”

The evening also featured two tribute videos with photo and video montages of Mr. McGuinty, and a string of sentimental musical performances, including a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, by Matt Dusk.

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