What's next for 'Premier Dad' after nine years at the helm?
Published Friday, January 25, 2013 6:00PM EST
The fresh-faced dad from Ottawa surprised everyone by winning the Ontario Liberal leadership almost 17 years ago.
Now after three elections, Dalton McGuinty is closing the door on nine years and three terms as premier and getting ready to start a new chapter in his life as the Liberals prepare to choose his successor as Liberal leader this weekend in Toronto.
He has more grey in his hair, more wrinkles in his skin, but he's still the same affable man, quick with a broad smile, and a keen sense of humour.
Walking down the corridor inside the Ontario legislature this week past a wall of portraits of his predecessors, Ontario's 24th premier was asked who he'll pick to do his portrait that generations will look upon to remember him.
"I don't know. But anytime I look at these I'm always reminded that sooner or later, when you're premier, they're going to hang you."
McGuinty shows the teflon attitude that helped him deflect political bullets during a series of scandals, such as the criminal probe into the Ornge air ambulance service, the billion-dollar eHealth cost overruns, a contempt motion over the scrapping of two gas-fired generating plants in Liberal ridings in Mississauga and Oakville, the nasty fight over imposing a pay freeze on public school teachers, the OLG scandal and the introduction of the HST.
For those who say he's running away, McGuinty is quick to reply:
"I've been around long enough not to care about what people have to say in that regard," he said.
"I conduct a poll every night, every single night, I look in the mirror. I ask myself, am I doing what I honestly think is the right thing to do, whether it's easy or not, popular or not?"
McGuinty honed his attitude in part from the seven years he spent in opposition before his Liberals won power in 2003. Now he's the current longest-serving premier, something he thinks would make his father proud.
Walking further down the hall, McGuinty stops to gaze upon a photo of his father Dalton McGuinty Sr., who died shovelling snow in 1990 while MPP for Ottawa South.
It's part of a group picture that shows the 34th Parliament of Ontario under Premier David Peterson from 1987-1990.
"He's up there. I've seen it many times before," he smiles, pointing to the picture.
"From time to time at the end of a long day when nobody else is around I might stop here and take a peek. My only regret, real regret, that he never saw me get elected as the MPP for Ottawa South, never saw me get elected to serve as leader of the party and he never saw me serve Ontarians as premier."
The senior McGuinty was a "larger than life" character who was a powerful influence on his children, teaching them "public service is where it's at."
When his father died, McGuinty was a young lawyer with a young family, but he felt it was his duty to pick up the family's political torch, and make the move from Ottawa to Toronto.
Turning away from the photo, the premier walks back down the hall to the cabinet room and sits down at the table, where he has guided the province for nearly a decade.
Looking back at the first time he ever did that, "it was like a dream" McGuinty said, thinking about all the cabinets that had sat there in the past.
His first day on the job, he saw a sign at the visitors entrance that said "Watch your step". He said he's tried to follow that advice ever since.
McGuinty said that while there are lots of stresses and strains" it's been rewarding to serve as premier.
"It's a unique experience, incredibly stimulating experience, challenging, but no place offers more opportunities in our province than serving Ontarians as premier, so more than anything else I am grateful."
He said the government has accomplished a lot - it established the world's largest protected green space and made changes to education resulting in smaller classes, higher test scores and higher graduation rates.
"That's a good foundation for those kids to say nothing of our economic prosperity."
But Ontario has a long way to go before it can claim prosperity. Ontario's deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31 is $11.9 billion and its debt is $255 billion.
Many were stunned in mid-October when McGuinty called a news conference to announce he would resign as premier and prorogue the legislature to allow a cooling off period to negotiate a public sector wage freeze.
Others saw it as the government's only way out from a series of scandals and a chance to give the party a fresh start.
But it was a family decision, said McGuinty.
His wife Terri has wanted him out of the job for some time, but only supported his decision to leave when she knew it's what he truly wanted, he said.
As for what's next for this 57-year-old fan of the TV show "Glee," the premier says he'll read some books and attempt the downward dog.
"The kids at Christmas said 'Dad, you need to get into yoga, you're losing your flexibility and you need to find a way to become tranquil."
As for the moniker "Premier Dad," McGuinty said he considers that a pretty high compliment.
But the single most important thing he can do in life, he said, is be a good dad to his four children.
"Being premier is wonderful, but nothing beats being a dad."
- With files from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss