A man who did the right thing, not the easy thing. That's how I'll remember Dalton McGuinty's time in office. From social to fiscal policy, this remains true of Ontario's 24th premier.
Despite the initial unpopularity of the measure, McGuinty's Liberal government introduced a harmonized sales tax, reducing government bureaucracy and creating thousands of jobs in the process. Unthinkably, Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives opposed the measure while refusing to pledge to repeal it if they were to form a government.
The HST did more than generate much-needed additional revenue for a cash-straddled government in the wake of a recession. It also created a more collaborative environment for federal-provincial relations.
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Instead of a system of "watertight compartments," Queen's Park and Ottawa are now capable of sitting down and negotiating change when need be. This will be particularly important as a demographic shift is about to take hold, rendering Canada's population collectively older -- a culture of cooperation will be needed if the provinces and the feds are to sit down to reform health care and other services together to make them more affordable for the taxpayer.
The HST killed Gordon Campbell's premiership. But Dalton McGuinty stuck with it. And Ontario has now recovered 134 per cent of the jobs it lost in the recession in additional to competitive corporate tax rates to boot.
It is no secret that the province of Ontario is cash-straddled. Every province will be short on revenue in the coming decades as the cost of health care, in particular, increases. Yet Dalton McGuinty understood one of the key tenets of governance -- short-term pain for long-term gain. A similar philosophy was visible in the Liberal government's difficult choices to balance the federal budget in the 1990s, a move that is largely responsible for the country's strong economic performance today.
In this instance, Premier McGuinty made the strenuous decision to increase taxes in order to make important investments in health care. Ontario now has the lowest surgical wait-times in the country, giving the province much-needed breathing room when it comes to the complicated choices that will need to be made over the coming decade when it comes to health care reform.
Yet it was not merely pragmatic decisions that characterized Premier McGuinty's tenure. Liberal values also defined his government, even after it was reduced to minority status.
Despite the controversy of the measure, Premier McGuinty made it clear that gay-straight alliances must be permitted in all school receiving public funding. McGuinty was prepared to lose political allies in order to do the right thing, something that has also clearly been the case with regards to freezing public sector wages. This is yet another vital quality that only true leaders possess.
Finally, political expediency was abandoned in favour of values-based decisions by McGuinty when it came to national issues as well.
While federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair -- a Quebec MP and the supposed leader of the province's federalist forces -- refused to even state that he'd prefer the victory of a federalist party in Quebec's recent provincial election, Dalton McGuinty openly came out in favour of Jean Charest and Canadian unity.
Brushing aside the political popularity of the Harper government's tough-on-crime positions, McGuinty stated with pride at the federal Liberal Party biennial convention this past January that at a time of decreasing crime and increasing global economic competition, the smart decision made by a government is to invest most heavily in education and not in building prisons.
McGuinty said it himself the night he was elected to a third term as premier: Liberalism is still alive in Canada. Thanks to McGuinty's accomplishments as premier, liberalism over the long term in our country has been given the ability to thrive.