Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is promising to stick around for four more years if his party wins a third term in the upcoming fall election.
Last January, the Liberal leader refused to speculate on his future beyond the Oct. 6 vote. But he’s finally made up his mind.
“I’m not committing to 10 years, but I am committing to a full term,” Mr. McGuinty said at a party gathering Sunday in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto.
Ontario needs strong, experienced leadership – something his rookie rivals can’t provide, the premier told hundreds of Liberals who attended the pre-election conference.
Mr. McGuinty took a few swipes at the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats during his slickly-produced 30-minute speech, which was tailored to fire up party volunteers and organizers amid public polls that suggest the Liberals are in trouble.
He mocked Opposition Leader Tim Hudak’s headline-grabbing election promise to force prisoners to join work crews and the NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s vow to cap gas prices as short-sighted attempts to score votes.
“We’re not proposing prisoners in parks, or pretending that we can control international oil and gas prices,” Mr. McGuinty said.
“We’re asking serious questions for serious times. My friends, we want to do more than win the election. We want to win the future for Ontarians.”
Both his opponents’ ideas have generated a lot of buzz among voters. But Mr. McGuinty said he doesn’t believe he’s lost sight of what voters want.
“There are things that are interesting and then there things that are of fundamental importance,” he said.
Leaders should speak to issues that are of “fundamental importance” – and that’s what the Liberal platform will do, he added.
“We will respect the intelligence of Ontario voters,” Mr. McGuinty said. “We will speak to their fundamental values and their aspirations.”
But the premier offered few clues about his election platform, even though both his opponents released their documents weeks ago.
“There are going to be some exciting ideas in there, I can tell you that,” he said.
“We are going to speak to the long-term as well as addressing some immediate needs. But we’ll make sure that we have the platform out in time for Ontarians to give it their full attention.”
Liberal insiders say the platform will be released in late August or early September, but wouldn’t confirm whether it will bear the title “Forward Together” – a slogan emblazoned on Mr. McGuinty’s new promotional posters.
The premier remained tight-lipped Sunday, saying only that the Liberals will offer solutions for the economic and social challenges Ontario will face over the next decade – from an aging population to demands for more efficient government and public services.
And only the Liberals can ensure Ontario isn’t shortchanged at the federal table, Mr. McGuinty said, adding that Canada is now ruled by a Conservative government that’s dominated by the West and an NDP Opposition that’s influenced by Quebec.
“We need to make sure that when we stand up for ourselves in Ontario, there are some distinguishing features,” he said. “I think one of those is having an Ontario Liberal government.”
The provincial parties were quick to point out that their federal cousins made significant gains in Ontario in the May 2 federal election, which has bolstered the province’s representation in the NDP and Tory ranks.
Paul Ferreira, a longtime NDP strategist, said Mr. McGuinty should spend less time trashing his opponents and more time offering up solutions that will lift Ontario out of the mess he’s created over the last eight years.
The cost of living is up, while jobs have left the province and replaced with lower-paying work, he said.
“If the premier thinks he’s got a 10-year future, he’s dreaming in Technicolor,” said Mr. Ferreira, who’s a candidate in the Toronto riding of York South-Weston. “People are not buying what he’s selling.”
Vic Gupta, the Tory candidate for Richmond Hill, said Mr. McGuinty simply doesn’t understand what voters are looking for.
“What we’re hearing is that Ontario families want change,” Mr. Gupta said.
“They want real positive change, they want more money back in their pocket. We haven’t heard much of that at all this weekend.”
Follow us on Twitter: