McGuinty shares insights on Canadian politics

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

True success requires having a plan while staying open to new opportunities, according to former Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty.

At a Davenport College Master’s Tea on Monday, McGuinty discussed his politics, family and opinions on public service to a crowd of about 30. McGuinty is a member of Canada’s Liberal Party and in 2003 became the first liberal to defeat an incumbent conservative government since 1934. He also served for a second term and began a third term, the first liberal in 125 years to do so, but resigned suddenly in October 2012. Though many of McGuinty’s decisions as premier have been praised as progressive, they have also been the subject of scandal and controversy, especially his environmental and tax policies.

McGuinty began his talk by recounting his entrance into the political world. Though he planned to pursue a career in medicine, McGuinty decided to become a politician after the death of his father, Dalton McGuinty, Sr., who was also a politician. When confronting political issues, from health care to the economy, McGuinty said he is not opposed to compromise but also knows how important it is to stand ground.

“If you believe something needs to be done, you need to listen to people and get the advice you can,” McGuinty said. “Once you’ve seized upon something you think you really need to do, you’ve got to find a way to get it done.”

McGuinty also discussed one of his most controversial political moves as premier — raising taxes at the beginning of his first term. Before McGuinty entered office, he signed a pledge, which he considered a “price of admission,” promising never to raise taxes. Once he was elected, however, McGuinty said he realized Ontario’s $5.6 billion deficit and raised taxes in order to put his health care and educational plans into place. He said that the controversy around his tax hikes marked his “loss of innocence” in politics.

In addition, McGuinty spoke about his controversial decision to shut down all coal plants in Ontario. Though the law is regarded as one of the most progressive environmental policies in North America, he said, it caused electricity prices to rise, which frustrated constituents and political opponents. McGuinty defended his actions by stressing the importance of the environment and said he felt his policy was particularly urgent considering the prominence of pollution-aggravated asthma in Ontarian children.

“I’ve always felt that we can’t wean ourselves off of carbon emissions,” McGuinty said.

During the beginning of his political career, McGuinty lived apart from his wife and children, and he said he worked hard to keep his family intact despite public attention.

When McGuinty asked the audience how many of them were Canadian, the vast majority of students stood up. Afterwards, they described the talk as one that resonated with them on a personal level.

Jun Luke Foster ’14 said the talk was inspiring and that it gave him hope for how much a public servant can accomplish and achieve.

Emma Graham ’16, an Ontario native, said she was particularly excited to hear McGuinty speak because she had felt the results of his policies for herself when growing up.

McGuinty is currently a fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

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