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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in the legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in the legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, Oct. 15, 2012. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Opinion

Bruce Anderson: McGuinty would be a powerful force in federal Liberal race Add to ...

Dalton McGuinty didn’t wait to take a walk in the snow – the first chill of fall was enough.

By almost any measure, Mr. McGuinty is one of Canada’s most successful politicians, and so there is naturally a lot of speculation about why he chose to quit his job as Ontario Premier, and whether a second act awaits on the national political stage.

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His response yesterday to a direct question about his interest in the federal Liberal leadership will only serve to fuel the hopes of those who would like him to throw his hat into that ring.

Certainly, if he wanted to seriously consider the federal leadership, yesterday’s announcement could not be put off much longer. Organizers are choosing sides, funds are being solicited and supporters wooed. The next four to eight weeks will likely be the window in which the field of competitors is decided.

The Ontario Premier would be a powerful force in the national Grit leadership race. His entry would raise the stakes for the Party by drawing more attention and visibility.

He would ensure that other contenders, most notably Justin Trudeau, show up with their “A” game. Over the years he’s been in politics, he’s become a stronger and stronger campaigner. His style is crisp, but understated, a combination that conveys a modest ego and a diligent work ethic. He has a good command of complex issues, and is not afraid to take a stand.

He’s been one of the country’s most successful partisans, without seeming terribly partisan in how he debates issues and deals with his opponents. Unlike some folks in politics, you can’t help but think if you brought him home for dinner, he wouldn’t frighten your children, and would probably charm your parents.

With a few recent polls showing that the Liberals federally are looking a bit more competitive, there’s certainly enough reason to justify the guesswork that he has his eye on 24 Sussex.

All the federal parties seem to acknowledge that Ontario will be to Canada’s next federal election what Ohio is to the presidential race in the U.S.: the ultimate battleground. With Mr. McGuinty as federal Liberal leader, voters in that province could decide that, after 40 years, they like the idea of having one of their own running the country.

But it also isn’t hard to conclude that Mr. McGuinty has simply had enough with politics. After more than 20 years in the Ontario legislature, he’s taken a lot of hits, and accumulated plenty of scar tissue. All of which makes him tougher, for sure. But maybe also just tired of the fight.

The day-to-day job of running the government of Ontario in these economic times is far from easy, and probably not all that enjoyable. Many Ontarians worry that the province has lost its economic mojo. The fiscal situation is grim. Curtailing expenditures means a prolonged battle with public sector unions.

Mr. McGuinty has weathered many errors and firestorms during his time in office (think eHealth), which is a lot easier to do with a majority government. The latest controversy, involving cancellation fees for gas plants, may not have Main Street impact yet. But it looks as messy as any of the messes the Premier has had to face at any point in his time in office – with the added disadvantage of a potential election at any time.

Political life is tough, and plenty stressful. Given his successes in the last decade, it’s easy to understand why Dalton McGuinty would give some thought to a federal run. But given the trials of his last year, it’s just as easy to understand why he might want to take a pass.

Bruce Anderson is one of Canada’s leading pollsters and communications strategists. He is a member of the CBC’s popular At Issue Panel, a regular Globe blogger, and Senior Adviser with NATIONAL Public Relations.

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