I want to take back some recent criticisms of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, as well as modify some of my praise for newly elected NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
On Horwath, my comments were quite fair, but perhaps too generous. Obviously she has yet to prove herself as a leader, and while she has much promise, she could easily turn out to be as ineffectual as Howard Hampton if she doesn't come up with a compelling narrative that speaks to the hearts and minds of average Ontarians at this crucial time. Her oft-misquoted declaration, "We won't adjust. We refuse to adjust," will need to be explained further before her opponents and commentators toss her into the dust bin of irrelevance. Perhaps a further explanation that goes like this: "All of us need to adjust to the changes in our lives and in the economy that we can't control. But we shouldn't have to adjust our core values that guide us forward," or something like that. Whether or not Horwath has the capacity to utter such a meaningful statement remains to be seen.
On McGuinty, I still do admire him a great deal, despite my criticisms over his handling of the 2007 referendum. He's a tough cookie, focussed, extremely hard-working, willing to make tough, unpopular decisions that are necessary for the future welfare of Ontarians (the 2004 health premium.) While some leaders fail to overcome or even understand their deficiencies (Stephane Dion, John Tory), Dalton came back from his 1999 drubbing to win two consecutive majorities. Not a bad feat for someone first deemed "not up to the job."
Jim Coyle's column yesterday nicely sized up Dalton's strengths and weaknesses: "The problem is compounded by the fact the premier is no longer playing to his strength. He's decided, he tells audiences, that it's no longer time for mere management, but for boldness and vision. Yet it is management – with all the careful, cautious, incremental order implied – that was entirely suited to his personality. Not even his biggest boosters would have graded him highly on the scales of vision, boldness or capacity to inspire...
...Part of the reason the premier is not connecting is that he's not a natural communicator. Granted, he's gone farther through persistence and hard work in this area than anyone thought possible. But eloquence and empathy are not his strong suits...To be fair, the premier's reach for the epic is understandable. But he hasn't nailed it yet. And a good start would be to speak in his own voice from his own experience."
That pretty much sums up Dalton and his challenges at this moment. He may indeed rise to the occasion and continue to provide the steady leadership that Ontario needs to get out of this recession. In truth, Andrea Horwath will never be a realistic option for governing Ontario, not unless she starts showing more Rae-like qualities and less of Hampton.