If you don’t say a name, will that make it go away? Does it make people forget? Can the past be rewritten? Or even erased?
That is clearly the hope and the strategy of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, who now do not speak the name “Dalton McGuinty” even though the current Premier and so many Liberals MPPs served with him in government. Those same Liberals were more than happy to speak his name in the good times that began to roll in 2003 and continued through 2007 and into 2011.
But as they say at Queen’s Park: that was then and this is now.
"The former Premier’s former chief of staff, Mr. Speaker. The former Premier’s chief of staff," said Wynne in responding to new allegations recently – none of them proven in court – in the ongoing gas plant scandal that began in the dying days of McGuinty’s reign and became a large part of what Wynne inherited with her job as Premier and Liberal leader.
The Opposition continues to pick up on the new ‘Liberal lexicon’ in their efforts to link McGuinty to Wynne and Wynne to McGuinty in voter’s minds that. Voting day – whenever it comes – may well tell the story of whether that’s worked or not.
With the Premier away from the Legislature earlier this week it fell to Health Minister Deb Matthews as Deputy Premier to carry the government standard and responded to questions from NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
"Can the Acting Premier tell us whether this government is still so proud of that legacy of Dalton McGuinty?" asked Horwath.
On that Matthews responded by saying: "I am enormously proud of the progress that we have made and continue to make under Premier Wynne." No reference to McGuinty.
But Horwath pressed on: "Can the acting Premier tell us whether the Liberals are still proud of the Dalton McGuinty legacy?"
But Matthews – the Legislature’s immovable force when ‘on message’ – ignored the question, telling Horwath: "When it comes to our Premier’s response to the issues around the gas plants, I think any observer would know that there has been more openness and transparency from this Premier than we have seen before."
Both answers by Matthews conveniently omitted any reference to the 'former Premier' a.k.a Dalton McGuinty.
The name has – by my count – only left the Premier’s lips once in the past many weeks.
Earlier this week reporters asked Wynne for her reaction to the Quebec election. One of them was the Star’s very capable reporter and dry wit, Robert Benzie. "Your predecessor, who you don’t like to name anymore, used to have joint meetings with the Charest cabinet. Would you like to resume those cabinet meetings?" he asked Wynne.
Wynne, with a slight and very quick smile, responded to Benzie’s question by saying yes, that she had been a part such a meeting when "Premier McGuinty was in this office…"
The name flowed slowly but naturally in Wynne’s answer. But it’s obvious that without that question McGuinty’s name might not have been used at all, because about an hour later in question period, Wynne was back to omitting it.
After failing one day with Matthews, Horwath turned to the Premier herself the next. "Can the Premier even say the words ‘Dalton McGuinty’ or does she think avoiding that name magically absolves her of all responsibility for the gas plant scandal?"
Even that deliberately provocative question failed to get a rise out of Wynne. "I am very proud to have been part of a government that undid the real destruction that had been in place under the previous government."
All in all, the McGuinty name avoidance is a silly political game.
Everyone knows Wynne served with McGuinty on the backbenches and in cabinet. And while it may be understandable that Wynne wants to put some political distance between herself and Dalton McGuinty, the Opposition and perhaps voters will remember the night Wynne won the Liberal leadership at the old Maple Leaf Gardens and lead Liberals in chanting: "Dalton …Dalton … Dalton."
Chanting "Former Premier … Former Premier … Former Premier" just would not have worked then and it may not work in the next provincial election.