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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty delivers a speech to the Ontario Liberal annual general meeting in Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2012.Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

In hindsight there was probably an inevitability to the timing of the resignation of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. After two majority mandates, with the incumbent opportunity to shape the province around his Liberal priorities, the limitations of the current minority no doubt represented a difficult adjustment.

Hampered by a deficit, forced by circumstances to implement tough but necessary measures to rein in the demands of his former allies in the public sector, and with bitterly hostile and uncooperative opponents, Mr. McGuinty must have found it an exercise in constant frustration and disappointed vision.

After a year of it, and amid the growing controversy over his government's failure to release documents related to the costly – and politically motivated – cancellation of two gas-fired power plants, and the backlash from teachers, especially, over his government's attempts to control spending, the timing of Mr. McGuinty's announcement seems right.

He departs, however, after nine years of leading Canada's second-largest government, with a generally successful record that balanced progressive investments in education and the environment (closure of the coal plants, the creation of Ontario's Greenbelt) with sound economic policy, notably the HST. He brought civility and moderation to Queen's Park. He built the Ontario Liberal Party back up into a winning party, finding success at the political centre at a time of polarization.

Mr. McGuinty has indicated that he will continue for the time being in a caretaker role, a situation that must not be permitted to last long. Ontario needs strong leadership to tackle the deficit, health-care reform and public-sector unions. Once Mr. McGuinty's successor is chosen, Ontarians must be consulted in a provincial election.

It is time for the Liberals to show they have the ability to renew themselves and to continue along a sensible, centrist path, with an immediate emphasis on controlling public spending. It is also time for Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to step forward. Mr. Hudak needs to show he can bridge the centre and right and that he too has, in the manner of Mr. McGuinty, a seriousness of purpose.