Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Memo to Ontario PCs: Keep John Tory, he's better than the alternatives

Check out this new website/blog set up to stoke the flames of anti-John Tory sentiment within the Ontario Progressive Conservative grassroots.

Congrats to the designer of this site, Nick Kouvalis, for having the guts to put his name out there on the anti-leadership front. As a former grassroots party member, I know how hard it is to stick your neck out and attack a sitting leader, regardless of how poorly that leader may have performed recently.

But looking at the rotating images of possible Tory successors on this site - Elizabeth Witmer (boring has-been), Tim Hudak (goof), Christine Elliott (too novice) and Frank Klees (I love funding for private religious schools) - I'm struck that the author of this website is probably doing his cause little help. None of these folks would make a better leader than John Tory, as far as I can tell.

I'm as shocked as most that John Tory so badly blew this recent Ontario election. Because of one promise to fund more religious schools within the public system, Tory's entire campaign went right off the rails. It was a miscalculation of historic proportions and paved the way for one of the most undeserved re-elections in recent history, that of Dalton McGuinty.

It's easy to understand why some Tories would be furious with Mr. Tory, particularly those on the far right of their party who never liked him much. But those right-wingers can't escape the fact that Tory went down in 2007 on one of their pet issues: private religious school funding. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Tory tried to frame his support for that issue in the most reasonable terms possible. He ditched the ill-conceived tax credits brought in by Jim Flaherty when he was Mike Harris's finance minister and promised to ensure these schools would abide by provincial standards.

Mr. Tory was right on one count: the status quo in Ontario - funding one public system and one separate Catholic system - is unacceptable in a modern, pluralistic society that values equality. The problem for Tory was the vast majority of Ontarians, myself included, see the solution as getting rid of the Catholic system, not entrenching religious education by creating all kinds of new religious school systems.

Tory also completely botched his sales job during the campaign, backtracking on it in a cowardly fashion, eventually killing it mid-campaign by promising a free vote on the issue. After that, it was only a question how large the Liberal majority would be. Since the Oct 10th vote, Mr. Tory has rightly promised to drop the religious school funding promise altogether.

Four years is a long time. By 2011, memories of Tory's 2007 mistakes will have faded, certainly among the electorate. By all accounts, Tory has been exemplary in running the Ontario PCs and getting it out of debt since he became leader in 2004. He still represents a moderate brand of conservatism that can sell in Ontario, if he can recover from his current electoral wounds.

In 1999, Dalton McGuinty completely blew the Ontario election, but managed to stay on as leader. He worked harder and improved his performance. Four years later, McGuinty had transformed and better impressed Ontarians with an inspiring, promise-heavy campaign (too many promises as we now know). After eight years of Tory rule, his 'Choose Change' motto resonated.

There's every reason to believe that John Tory can do the same thing. By 2011, it's highly likely Ontarians will have had enough of Dalton McGuinty.


Joanne (True Blue) said...

By 2011, it's highly likely Ontarians will have had enough of Dalton McGuinty.

Do I detect a slight note of disenchantment with the Ontario Liberals on your part?

Matt Guerin said...

I feel a little bit of disenchantment, particularly over their sabotaging of democratic renewal. That was one of many let-downs, although the closest to my heart. Over all, I think the McGuinty government is competent and has its heart in the right place. Dalton is very hard-working and tougher than most give him credit for. I only say people might be tired of McGuinty in 2011 because by then it will have been 8 years of him. After 8 years of Tory rule in 2003, people were very ready for a change. To win another majority after 8 years is a very hard thing to do, but not impossible.

Anonymous said...

There is of course, my darkhorse candidate for the Ontario PCs.

Pinball Clemons.

One who has credibility with the Focus on Family people and can connect with inner cities. Lives in suburban Oakville. People want him as Mayor of Ontario. Despite the problems most have with David Miller, don't think Pinball's associations with Promise Keepers does well in Toronto Centre.

McGuinty may be game for a third term if the PCs elect a weak leader. It will soon become evident that Tory wasted four years and gained very little in the last election (in 1999, McGuinty despite losing was able to bring in Smitherman and Bryant). Given the Premier's leadership style, I don't see a strong successor taking over from him. As you know, most Ministers tend to stay on script, which creates the image that they are competent managers but not inspiring leaders.