Credits: REUTERS/Mark Blinch
With the election of a new Liberal leader likely months away and Queen's Park prorogued, an unofficial election campaign is effectively underway.
Party president Yasir Naqvi said the Grits have just started talking about organizing a convention and it's far too soon to even discuss a timeline for replacing Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose unexpected resignation Monday stunned all but a few of his confidantes.
"It would be very speculative for me to talk about days or months," Naqvi said Tuesday, adding he has a conference call with the Liberal executive council Monday night.
Even if a new Liberal boss is picked "sooner rather than later," it could well be spring before MPPs return to Queen's Park, campaign chairman Greg Sorbara said.
A Liberal source said the plan would be for a new leader to bring the legislature back in the spring with a throne speech and a budget. Such a timetable would likely set the stage for an election in late spring or early summer.
Sorbara said preparing his party for the next election played a big role in the timing of McGuinty's decision to leave.
"I think the real motivation was as follows -- we're in a minority parliament, an election can take place really at any time. A non-confidence motion and you're out on the hustings," Sorbara said.
"I think the premier really examined whether he had the energy to carry this party through another campaign and govern for another four years. And I think he came to the conclusion that he wasn't prepared to do that.
"As a result of that, there was only one option. Soon as you know that, it's the time to step aside."
Shutting down parliament when the government is on the rack over botched gas plant relocations and the Ornge air ambulance affair doesn't sit well with the opposition.
"The important challenges facing our province won't go away while the Liberals select their new leader and that's why I'm calling on Ontarians, on everyday people in this province, to speak up and let their government know that they want their MPPs to get back to work," New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he believes McGuinty's recent conversion to austerity politics just didn't fit.
"I could see the fire in his belly had died out," Hudak said. "And I think after nine years of being a big spender it is tough to slam on the brakes and go in the opposite direction."
But it's not clear McGuinty is contemplating a quiet retirement. Pressure is building from his admirers in Ottawa and beyond for him to challenge Justin Trudeau for the federal Liberal leadership -- which he did not rule out Monday.
"He's uniquely positioned as the only candidate who has stood up to Conservative attacks -- and won elections," a source close to McGuinty said. "He's got a track record of delivering on issues of importance to Liberals."
Sorbara said the federal talk is no "idle gossip" but is coming from elements within the party and not the premier himself.
"There is no doubt that people are going to try and prevail upon him to consider it," Sorbara said. "But my understanding from conversations with him and others is that this decision had nothing to do with that.
"This decision had to do with his desire to get his life back, get rebonded with his family."