By Doug Hallett
This area’s two MPPs aren’t putting any stock in media speculation that Dalton McGuinty, who announced Monday that he’ll resign as Liberal leader and Ontario’s premier, is planning to challenge Quebec MP Justin Trudeau for the federal Liberal leadership.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals said she “did not get any sense” when McGuinty addressed his caucus after Monday’s announcement “that he was trotting off to a new political adventure.”
And Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott also doesn’t think McGuinty has his eye on the federal scene.
“No, he said he wants to spend more time with his family. And when politicians retire and say that, I tend to believe them,” said the Progressive Conservative MPP.
While Sandals and Arnott agree on this, they have different perspectives on the legacy of McGuinty, 57, who has led the provincial Liberal party since 1996 and has been premier since 2003.
Arnott issued a news release Tuesday saying he’d always had a cordial and friendly relationship with McGuinty, who, like Arnott, was first elected as an MPP in 1990.
“There is a time for partisanship, and there is a time for courtesy. I admire Dalton McGuinty’s commitment to public service and to his family. I wish him well,” said the Fergus resident who, like McGuinty, is married to a schoolteacher.
In an interview later that day, Arnott was reluctant to say much about what McGuinty’s legacy might be. “Time will tell,” he said.
However, he took a bit of a swipe at the accomplishment that he thinks McGuinty would probably point to as his biggest legacy, namely full-day kindergarten.
“I think one of the elements of the decision (to bring in full-day kindergarten) was to create a legacy program,” Arnott told the Tribune.
However, full-day kindergarten is “a very costly program,” he continued. And while people “should think long-term, we shouldn’t be motivated by a desire to leave a legacy . . . we have to keep our feet on the ground.”
Sandals, a former longtime public school trustee who was first elected MPP in 2003, said full-day kindergarten is only one part of the “extraordinary impact on education” that McGuinty has had.
His impact also includes higher graduation rates from high school, international academic test scores that “show Ontario is right up there at the top of the world” and higher postsecondary enrolment, she said in an interview.
“Right from the littlest kids up to college and university-age kids, he has had a huge impact on education in the province,” she said Tuesday.
McGuinty is also leaving a notable legacy in the health care field, Sandals said.
She said there has been a “gradual but very significant transformation” in health care under McGuinty to more community-based, rather than hospital-based, care. And the Local Health Integration Network established under McGuinty, which has overseen this transformation, has also worked with hospitals to balance their budgets, which is “a first,” she said.
McGuinty’s legacy also includes leading a transformation of Ontario’s electrical system, Sandals said.
The province has moved away from coal-fired generating plants to cleaner sources of power and also to more renewable sources, she said. Unlike when the Liberals took power in 2003, Ontario is now generating enough electricity that “we are looking after ourselves,” with Ontario now a net exporter of electricity, she said.
She also pointed to changes made under McGuinty to help families living in poverty.