11/23/2011 12:52 EST | Updated 01/23/2012 05:12 EST

McGuinty's Throne Speech: Campaign Left, Govern Right


As I read through the McGuinty government's throne speech this week, I couldn't help but be reminded of the words often attributed to legendary Liberal organizer Keith Davey: "Campaign from the left; govern from the right."

This direction and recipe for success have become part of Liberal lore -- and, in some cases, a recipe for success. Up until 2011, the McGuinty Liberal team has campaigned and governed from the left, but this throne speech offers a distinct change in tack. Even a complete reversal.

Some of the roughly 38 per cent of Ontarians who voted for Mr. McGuinty might have been surprised to turn on the news last night to discover the main themes of the speech. Restraint. Difficult times. Making tough decisions.

This sounds a little different from the issues that he chatted amiably about while he strolled through the local hospital, school or the (soon-to-be shut down) solar panel factory. He didn't want to talk about the challenges ahead at the time, and I wouldn't have wanted to either if I was in his position. Ontario faces a tough path.

The fact that the Liberals are starting down the road of talking about the fiscal mess in Ontario (or at least saying they are) is a good sign. But what most reasonable people wonder is: you're just noticing this now? And can we really trust a government that increased spending by seven per cent a year each year for eight straight years to get spending under control?

Today, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will table an economic report in which he will profess to be somewhat shocked that things are worse than he predicted. Unfortunately for him, there is no previous government to audit. He's on his own.

But my guess is that the Liberals will feel pretty cozy thinking that they stand smack dab in the middle of what they consider extremes: the Tories on the right and the NDP on the left.

The risk for them is similar to what happened (over time) to the Liberal party in Ottawa: when you follow the agenda for the right, and feature the key issues that usually play well for Tories, the electorate just might hire the actual Conservatives for the job.

Mr McGuinty is venturing into dangerous waters. He's out of his comfort zone. We know he knows how to buy peace and spend money. He hasn't really said "no" in eight years. Can he start now?