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He was the bland, business-like counterpoint to the charismatic Gerard Kennedy, building support throughout the 1996 leadership race. Over the course of five ballots, Dalton McGuinty climbed from fourth place to best Mr. Kennedy by 140 votes.

A big-tent approach, with promises of both fiscal responsibility and improved social spending, won Mr. McGuinty the day in the 2003 provincial election. He trounced the Tories, winning 72 of the legislature's 103 seats.

Peace in our time

The Liberals achieved labour peace in Mr. McGuinty's first term, making deals with doctors and other provincial employees, while ensuring teachers' contracts with local boards were also settled smoothly.

Time to rebuild

After the austerity of the Tory years, the Liberals put money into both health care and education, cutting wait times and class sizes and introducing all-day kindergarten.

A second majority

It was an unusual tack for a man who had built his image as a stable, low-key "Premier Dad," but in the 2007 election, the Liberals used a wedge issue – the Progressive Conservatives' support for funding religious schools – as an effective bludgeon to beat back the Tory tide. Mr. McGuinty retained his large majority.

Resurrecting transit

The province finally put money into expanding public transit, a long-neglected file, committing billions of dollars to build light-rail transit in Toronto and busways in the suburbs.

The lows:

Portrayed as inexperienced and wooden by his opponents, Mr. McGuinty struggled to sell himself as a potential premier during the 1999 election. Although his party made gains in the vote, the Tories won a comfortable majority.

Two successive provincial agencies, Smart Systems for Health and eHealth Ontario, burned through hundreds of millions of dollars trying to digitize medical records, but made little progress. In 2009, eHealth's CEO resigned, followed a few months later by Health Minister David Caplan, after it was revealed that the agency had doled out no-bid contracts.

On election night in 2011, Mr. McGuinty came up just one seat short of a majority, forcing him to rely on the NDP to hold on to power in the legislature. He could, however, count himself lucky that it had not turned out worse: Some precampaign polls had shown him losing outright.

The Liberals' carefully cultivated relationship with unions unravelled in the face of successive budget deficits. Looking to rein in spending, Mr. McGuinty's government froze teacher salaries and announced plans to do the same with other public-sector workers this year, prompting some labour leaders to vow to go to the mats with the party that had relied on them for support.

What seemed like clever moves in an election year, putting the kibosh on unpopular gas plants in the Toronto suburbs, turned into a headache for Mr. McGuinty when the cost of the cancellations, at least $230-million, became public.