Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks to the media after making an announcement to resign from the leadership of the Ontario provincial Liberal party at Queen's Park in Toronto October 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mark Blinch
OTTAWA - So Dalton McGuinty has quit as premier, shut down Ontario's legislature for the foreseeable future, and has decided his successor can clean up the steaming hot pile of political doo-doo he's left at Queen's Park.
This, to a large number of card-carrying Liberals across the country, is apparently not a problem - but an opportunity!
My friend Warren Kinsella, the McGuinty war room veteran and author of the just-published Fight the Right, has already written this much, but he's not the only Liberal who thinks that a scandal-plagued, shopworn 57-year-old ex-premier could trounce Stephen Harper's Conservatives and Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats and lead the federal Liberal Party back to glory.
There are others who think the bilingual McGuinty might even appeal to enough Quebec voters that he could re-forge the historic coalition of voters in Ontario and Quebec that produced so many governments in Ottawa.
That seems doubtful. As one Quebec wag said to me this morning, McGuinty could walk from end of Montreal's famous Sainte-Catherine Steet to another and no one would notice who he is. The Liberal brand in Quebec, now taking body blows at a provincial inquiry into corruption allegations in the construction industry, may take a generation or more to rebuild, if at all. Outside of the island of Montreal, federal Liberal riding associations are empty shells.
And while many major news organizations in English Canada are going ga-ga over the possibility of Justin Trudeau reviving the Liberal brand, the French-language papers in Montreal have largely shrugged at his candidacy. If native son Trudeau can't spark excitement about big-L liberalism in Quebec, it seems tough to think McGuinty can.
All of which underscores what surely even the most die-hard Liberal in Canada must realize by now: liberalism in this country is facing an existential moment as Canadian voters by and large drift away from the political centre Liberals think they own to support small-c conservative parties or, increasingly in the last decade, to the left and the NDP. In other words, being in the middle no longer means political survival, it spells political peril.
And while their political comfort zone shrinks, Liberals are being pressed like never before to rebuild their own brand. Concurrent leadership races for the federal party, as well as for the provincial parties in Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, would exhaust the capacity of any political movement in Canada.
And even after that, Liberals may have two provincial elections to fight in 2013 that could easily result in defeats, leaving Liberals powerless everywhere in the country but in Charlottetown.
In B.C., Premier Christy Clark - nominally a Liberal but really doing her very best to act like a Stephen Harper Conservative - seems a very long shot to turn today's polls around and form a new B.C. Liberal government.
And the country's political history makes the odds very long that the next Liberal leader in Ontario will be able to improve on the minority McGuinty won in 2011, in an election that seems now all but certain in 2013. Notwithstanding the example of the Lougheed-to-Redford Progressive Conservative dynasty in Alberta, when Ernie Eves took over from Mike Harris on Ontario, or when Turner took over from Trudeau, or Campbell followed Mulroney, or Martin after Chretien, seemingly powerful political dynasties tend to tumble to the opposition benches upon a dynastic change.
And if - or when - that happens to McGuinty's successor, the Canadian political landscape will be a very bleak place for the country's Liberals.