By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
Dalton McGuinty’s surprise resignation as Ontario Premier Monday night (Oct. 15) quickly led to speculation about whether his two high-profile London cabinet ministers would consider a run for party leadership.
McGuinty, who led the Ontario Liberal Party for 16 years, the past nine as premier, announced he would remain in charge until a leadership convention can be held to replace him. He will also continue to serve as the MPP for Ottawa South until the next general election.
During his brief speech, McGuinty trumpeted the Liberal Party government’s achievements in education, health care, the environment, as well as, the overall health of the province’s economy.
His announcement was not the only surprise McGuinty had for the province Monday night. McGuinty said his decision to ask Lieutenant Governor David Onley to prorogue the legislature was made to allow discussions with the province’s labour unions around wage freezes to continue “in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature.”
London West MPP Chris Bentley, who like the premier has faced a lot of Opposition party heat in recent months, said he was “shocked, completely surprised” by McGuinty’s announcement.
“I was very surprised. I didn’t see this coming at all. It has been a great honour to serve with the premier. He is a man of integrity, a man of great vision,” Bentley said. “We have made a lot of progress in the past nine years and have positioned Ontario very well for the future.”
London North Centre MPP and Ontario Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews — who faced her own controversy over the ORNGE air ambulance service — also praised theMcGuinty’s legacy.
“I have to say I had about a million emotions. I feel so blessed to have worked with Dalton. When I reflect on how far we have come in nine years of him as premier, it is extraordinary,” Matthews said.
Bentley, who said working with McGuinty has been “an incredible honour,” said the “great progress” of the past nine years is what his soon-to-be former leader should be remembered for. Bentley also said he had more personal remembrances of his relationship with McGuinty.
“He is very personable. The person you seen one-on-one is the person you see publicly. There is not a different side,” Bentley said. “It really has been quite a remarkable experience to have been part of a government of which he is the head.”
Matthews said if she could keep one memory of McGuinty’s time as premier, it would be the effect he had on the members of his caucus. In particular, Matthews said, was how McGuinty would carefully consider the input of everyone before reaching a decision.
“He listened carefully to every member of caucus, then he elevated us, he reminded us what our values are, what our guiding principals are, why we are making the decisions we are,” Matthews said. “On several occasions I have seen him rethink a decision based on feed back from causes.”
Bentley, who is also the province’s energy minister, faces extraordinary punishment, including possibly jail time, around the Liberals’ $230 million cancellation of two gas power plants. However, those pressures haven’t stopped rumours about Bentley, or Matthews, being positioned for a run at the Ontario Liberal leadership.
However, Bentley deflected any question about whether he would consider taking a run at party’s top position.
“I have been very honoured to have been part of his government. I have been thinking about his leadership the past nine years. Of this government, of the progress he has made,” said Bentley, who continued to be evasive when pushed on how his future might be affected by McGuinty’s decision.
“I have been thinking about his leadership, how far we have come under the premier in areas like education, areas like clean air, areas like innovation and how well it has positioned us for the future.”
Matthews said she hasn’t considered a leadership run, adding her focus continues to be the health portfolio. When pressed, Matthews said her focus has always been on the task at hand.
“Twenty-four hours ago we had no idea this was going to happen and I have a lot of things I am driving forward on health. So, my head is not there,” Matthews said. “I am focused on absorbing the news and I am pretty busy doing health related work. Honestly, I am really focused on doing my work.
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