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Wise lessons for Liberals from Dalton McGuinty

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks to the federal Liberal policy convention in Ottawa on Jan. 13, 2012.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty gave a rather remarkable political speech Friday night to the Liberal convention. As you'd expect, us being Liberals, the speech immediately led to more is-he-or-isn't-he speculation. I think a few things are clear:

1. If Dalton McGuinty decided to run for federal leader, he'd immediately be the overwhelming front-runner.

2. Dalton McGuinty has a pretty big job to do as Ontario Premier over the next few years.

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3. Sitting around speculating whether McGuinty – or any other "star" candidate will emerge to take on Bob Rae is to miss entirely what McGuinty actually said in his speech.

McGuinty will either make the leap into federal politics, or he won't. Liberals are of course free to beg him to run, I have no clue if it could work. But his speech was a roadmap for the Liberal Party predicated not on Dalton McGuinty of 2012 as the next leader but the Liberal Party choosing a Dalton McGuinty of 1996.

We don't need a "star" to lead us to instant glory, we need a hard-working, decent, smart leader who can grow into the job. Somebody who will learn from mistakes – McGuinty described in detail the mistakes of the 1999 provincial campaign and how he fixed them as of 2003. We need somebody young enough that they get at least two elections and hopefully at least 12-15 years as leader. He talked about not changing horses mid-course – people have forgotten the "dump Dalton" effort after 1999 that, if it had succeeded would likely mean the Ontario Liberal Party would look a lot more like their federal counterpart today than the political machine McGuinty has built. We need somebody who takes clear, bold, forward-looking policy positions.

So the question federal Liberals should be asking themselves is how do we find our own Dalton McGuinty? We'd be lucky if we got the actual Premier but assuming he decides to pass, his speech provides a clear roadmap. We don't need somebody who is a political star today, we need somebody who will be a political star in 10-15 years after a successful run as Liberal leader.

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