Of all of the odd aspects of Monday’s sudden resignation announcement by Dalton McGuinty, and there were plenty of them, perhaps the oddest was the Ontario Premier’s pointed refusal to rule out running for the Liberal Party of Canada’s leadership.
Members of Mr. McGuinty’s inner circle, lurking around the corridors of Queen’s Park that night, were at least as coy. Meanwhile, allies were apparently spinning to the Ottawa press that not only was he leaving the door open, but that a “ready-made” team was already in place if he gave in to a Draft-Dalton movement.
Nobody can pretend to know what exactly goes on inside the inscrutable Premier’s head. But suffice it to say that other than the few who are spinning, very few provincial Liberals are taking the prospect of a federal run seriously – and with good reason.
For the Premier of the country’s largest province to decide he wanted to run for the leadership of a third party far removed from government, he’d have to be confident of at least two things: that he had very favourable odds of winning that contest, rather than being humiliated, and that he had a decent chance of becoming Prime Minister. And on neither of those fronts does Mr. McGuinty have much reason to feel assured.
At best, he would be facing a tough leadership battle against Justin Trudeau, who has already emerged as an almost prohibitive favourite. Realistically, Mr. McGuinty would enter the race as an underdog. And the idea that he would do so just to ensure Mr. Trudeau faced some competition, floated by some Liberals, is absurd.
If he did win, Mr. McGuinty would be very hard-pressed to quickly lead his party to power unless he could almost sweep his home province, which would be a tall task considering that he’s not exactly leaving office in a blaze of glory. Knowing that the Liberals might well need a couple of elections to claw their way back toward competitiveness, he’d have to enter the job prepared to serve in opposition until as late as 2019 – not an overly appealing prospect for someone who has already led a party for 16 years.
Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine that Mr. McGuinty has much interest in returning to opposition at all, which he didn’t seem to enjoy all that much the first time. That’s especially the case because he’s been visibly tired lately, evidently feeling run down by the frustrations and disappointments of his abortive third term as Premier. And his wife, Terri, is known not to be especially fond of the political life; when he says that he intends to spend more time with her, he probably means it.
Mr. McGuinty doesn’t seem to have much interest in going to the private sector to make his fortune, so there’s a good chance he’ll return to public life in some form or other. But it’s easier to see him quietly lobbying for an ambassadorship – something he’d be rather good at, based on watching him during his foreign travels – than seeking another political office.
So why all the coyness on Monday night? Two explanations are floating around, and both are plausible.
The first is that the inevitable media stories would make it look a little less like Mr. McGuinty was leaving Queen’s Park with his tail between his legs while his government is plagued by scandal, by reminding people that he might be wanted elsewhere. And to some small extent, it seems to have worked.
The second is that, while Mr. McGuinty might not have much reason to want to go federal, it’s a different story for the small industry that has developed around him. For people whose professional lives have long revolved around him, or less charitably for whom he has been a meal ticket, there might understandably be a strong desire to see him stay in politics. So they might have advised him that it was best not to hastily close any doors.
It’s conceivable that Mr. McGuinty will somehow be convinced by the people in his orbit that it’s worth actually taking the plunge and running federally. But there’s so little in it for him that all the speculation out there should be taken with a big grain of salt.