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Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty waves at his Ontario election night headquarters in Ottawa October 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie/REUTERS/Chris Wattie)
Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty waves at his Ontario election night headquarters in Ottawa October 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie/REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

With Premier Dad's win, Ontario joins Manitoba, PEI in embracing experience Add to ...

In choosing to return Premier Dad, Ontario voters have joined their counterparts in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island in choosing the proven over the experimental, experience over innovation.

Dalton McGuinty has only obtained a minority government. But it’s better than a kick in the teeth. He will carry on as premier, with a third mandate.

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People who believe that there is some kind of ideological war underway in Canada should look at the data. Some of the same voters who sent Mr. McGuinty back to Queen’s Park Thursday night sent Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper back to Parliament Hill last May and, in Manitoba, gave the NDP a fourth mandate Tuesday.

Stability trumps change: That’s the first message from the Ontario vote. The second: Don’t mess with immigrants.

Tim Hudak’s bid to return the Progressive Conservatives to power in Ontario may have failed on the first day of the campaign. That’s when the rookie leader latched on to a proposed Liberal policy that would help find jobs for new Canadians seeking professional accreditation and called it “an affirmative action program to hire foreign workers.”

In a province that has, more successfully than anywhere else on earth, accommodated millions of new arrivals from Asia and elsewhere in recent years, such language was incendiary.

Mr. Hudak soon dropped the attack, but the damage may already have been done. The Conservatives made virtually no gains in ridings with large immigrant populations.

That said, the Conservatives would be unwise to seek to replace Mr. Hudak, who enlarged his caucus and brought his party’s share of the popular vote almost up to the Liberals’. Ontario voters like to kick the tires with their leaders. Bob Rae lost two elections before becoming premier in 1990; Mike Harris lost in 1990 before winning in 1995.

And Dalton McGuinty ran just an awful campaign in 1999, paid the price, learned his lessons, and came back to win it in 2003.

Tim Hudak may yet become premier, if he grows from the experience of loss and learns how to bring himself and his party in line with the values of Ontario voters. History says he has a better-than-even chance of winning next time.

As for Andrea Horwath’s NDP, they had their best night since Mr. Rae took his party from first to third in 1995. She will hold the balance of power in what is, nonetheless, a very strong minority government. Though it would be wise for MPPs to get their flu shots.

But despite the ambiguity of the result, the night belongs to Dalton. He has had his bad days over the past eight years. No one really understands what he’s trying to do with his energy policy. The deficit is alarmingly high and only the most naive optimists believe it will soon be eliminated. If the global economy tanks, the Ontario economy could sink back into recession.

But voters know all that. And a plurality of them gave a decent man with a clear head and a good heart another shot at it. No Ontarian of good will wishes him anything but success.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnIbbitson

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