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The next battle royal: Harper versus McGuinty?

Ontario's motto is "Loyal She Began, Loyal She Remains."

But the interesting question is "loyal to whom?"

The quote obviously refers to the province's roots in the United Empire Loyalists' migration from the United States. But Ontario has always had a case of divided loyalties.

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In the 19th century, the province typically returned a plurality of MPs for John A. MacDonald's Tories while handing provincial power to Oliver Mowat's Liberals election after election.

During the 42 years of consecutive PC rule from 1943 to 1985, Ontario sent a contingent of mostly Liberal MPs more often than not.

Ontario likes divided rule, with one party in office federally and another provincially.

In fact, during the entire history of Ontario, the province has elected a new political party to power in Queen's Park of the same stripe as the one already in power in Ottawa exactly once. The year was 2003, when Dalton McGuinty became Premier.

Why does the province divide its loyalties so?

There is an argument that the province sees its premier as the true "leader of the opposition" in the country, the person who actually stands up to the Prime Minister.

Certainly, the last month reminds us of the power held in the Ontario premier's office, and his or her ability to intervene in federal politics.

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Early in the campaign, Mr. McGuinty demanded Ontario get the same energy deal as Newfoundland.

The federal Conservatives capitulated the same day.

Last week, Mr. McGuinty demanded an extension of the 10-year federal-provincial health accord.

The federal Conservatives capitulated the same day.

Today, Mr. McGuinty demanded more powers for Ontario to attract and retain skilled immigrants.

Let's see if the federal Conservatives wait a day to capitulate this time.

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Ontario has long chosen to create the checks and balances that don't normally exist in our Constitution through a political hedging of bets.

Oliver Mowat battled John A. Macdonald for decentralization, which created the modern Canada of strong provinces.

John Robarts fought Lester B. Pearson's reforms on the flag and the creation of public health care, leading the small-C conservative defence of institutions like the monarchy and private medicine.

Bill Davis counterbalanced Pierre Trudeau's constitutional initiatives, brokering the compromise that led to repatriation.

Mike Harris supposedly refused Jean Chrétien's attempt to amend the Constitution in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum.

If Stephen Harper is elected to a majority, or remains in power with a minority, it will be the Ontario Premier who says no to any privatization of health care, and actually has the power to do something about it.

And Mr. McGuinty is showing a resolve to intervene in federal politics that indicates his opposition will carry real weight.

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