Chris Selley discusses a new book on Dalton McGuinty, which raises more questions about the soon-to-be-former Premier than it answers. For example, I would never in a million years have guessed that McGuinty once held views like this:
And we learn that Mr. McGuinty, upon entering politics after his father’s death, was widely seen as cut from the same cloth: “the odd duck from Ottawa South with the socially conservative views [who] could have fit quite comfortably into the [Progressive Conservative] caucus,” as Mr. Coyle puts it. He was the guy who voted against same-sex spousal benefits in 1994, bemoaned Ontario’s soaring debt levels and preached self-reliant smaller government.
“Too many people today have come to view government as the first resort instead of the last resort,” he wrote in a 1994 op-ed. “Most forget that our first schools, universities, hospitals and all forerunners to our modern social programs were not run or even funded by government. These services were provided by individual volunteers and charitable organizations.”
To strongly disagree with the original author — someone with views like that would most certainly not have fit with the Progressive Conservative caucus of the day: Ontario PCs were almost interchangeable with Ontario Liberals and “self reliance” and “small government” were radical, beyond-the-pale notions that had no place in either caucus. Such heresies belonged out with the uncivilized cowboys of Alberta (or even Texas), not in the smug, comfortable centre-of-the-universe nexus of Ontario politics.
Mr. McGuinty finishes his journey as pretty much the opposite of all of the foregoing, as the paragon of a mushy Canadian progressive nanny statist. One former MPP suggests to Mr. Coyle that this is simple a matter of “growing up” — but this is an absurd dramatic licence we afford only to politicians. Normal people’s views don’t change that much between the ages of 40 and 60 without some epiphanous triggering event.
Ideology aside, the “evolution” Mr. Coyle describes will be interesting enough for political junkies, but it’s not very revelatory: At first Mr. McGuinty was an introverted and not-very-organized politician; he won the party leadership more or less by accident; and eventually, with some savvy backroom help, he developed into a well-organized, professional, bog-standard progressive Canadian politician with all the advantages that entails.
Had Mr. McGuinty been an evangelical, of course, he never would have gotten away with this: The less of a social-conservative agenda Stephen Harper & Co. pursue, the bigger government gets under their watch, the more they are accused of plotting a theocratic small-government revolution. But conservative Catholics can publicly transform into liberal Catholics entirely in less than two decades, and they will almost always get the benefit of the doubt.