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Election Day: Oct. 2, 2003   

Party may be over for Eves

Ernie Eves
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Ernie Eves' tenure as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party appeared uncertain Thursday as his government fell to Dalton McGuinty's Liberals.

Re-elected in his home riding of Dufferin-Grey-Wellington-Peel, the Tory leader had been widely expected to step down if his party was defeated.

However, Eves made no mention of resigning in his concession speech, vowing to continue to battle for his party's values.

His party's loss came at the end of a campaign in which the Tories appeared to stumble out of the gate. The Conservatives slid in public opinion polls after launching an ad campaign attacking Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty. By contrast, the Liberals unveiled an ad in which McGuinty pledged to take the "high road."

Eves was first elected to the Legislature in 1981 as the member for Parry Sound. He was named deputy premier and finance minister when the Tories, under then-leader Mike Harris, swept to power in 1995.

As finance minister, Eves was the architect of the spending and tax cuts promised by Harris' so-called "Common Sense Revolution." But Eves also suffered personal tragedy just weeks after the Conservatives came to power when his son, Justin, was killed in a car accident.

Second life in politics

He held the Parry Sound riding until 2001, when he left politics for Bay Street. Eves became a vice-president at Credit Suisse First Boston in Toronto, but quit that job less than a year later to seek the Tory leadership when Harris retired.

His victory in the Tory leadership race over runner-up Jim Flaherty signalled a swing to the centre for a party that had won two election victories espousing such policies as lower taxes and work for welfare.

Many within the party felt that Eves had abandoned the ideology that had elected the Tories, a view reinforced by his decision to demote Flaherty from the finance portfolio (which he inherited when Eves quit in 2001) to the lower-profile Ministry of Enterprise, Innovation and Opportunity.

Eves' critics, both inside and outside the party, were handed more ammunition by a series of gaffes that reinforced the view of a government adrift.

Hydro woes

As premier, Eves proceeded with Harris' plans to partially privatize the province's electrical generation and distribution systems. But faced with rising prices and a looming consumer revolt, he did an abrupt about-face, cancelling the privatization plan and reinstituting a price freeze on electricity rates.

His cabinet was plagued by scandals, with two ministers forced to resign over allegations of improper expense accounts. Tourism Minister Cam Jackson and Energy Minister Chris Stockwell both left cabinet when controversies exploded over their spending habits. Stockwell quit the legislature entirely, while Jackson remained on the backbenches and was re-elected in his Burlington riding.

After seven years of the Common Sense Revolution, Eves had tried to move the Tories to the middle of the political spectrum. However, his conciliatory, olive-branch approach toward groups such as the province's teachers failed to translate into support in public opinion polls. The premier responded by swinging firmly to the right, promising to ban teachers' strikes and tax credits for seniors and private-school tuition.

An outbreak in early 2003 of severe acute respiratory syndrome tested an Ontario health care system that critics charged had been badly weakened by Tory spending cuts. Later in the summer, a massive power blackout provided Eves a chance to present himself as a strong leader during a crisis, but it also led to questions about Ontario's ability to keep the lights on at home after eight years of Conservative rule.

Ernie Eves: A life in politics

1946: Born in Windsor.

1972: Called to the Ontario bar following graduation from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

1981: First elected to the Ontario Legislature as the member for Parry Sound.

1995: Ontario Tories sweep to power under the banner of leader Mike Harris's "Common Sense Revolution." Eves named deputy premier and minister of finance.

1995: Eves' 23-year-old son, Justin, killed in a Thanksgiving weekend car accident.

1999: Tories re-elected with second majority government.

1999: Eves and wife, Vicki, divorce after 23 years of marriage. Enters into "life partnership" with former cabinet colleague Isabel Bassett.

February 2001: Eves resigns cabinet portfolio and seat in the legislature to become vice-president at Credit Suisse First Boston.

October 2001: Harris announces plans to retire.

November 2001: Eves declares candidacy for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

March 23, 2002: Eves becomes leader of the Tories.

April 15, 2002: Sworn in as Ontario's 23rd premier.

May 2, 2002: Wins byelection in the riding of Dufferin-Wellington-Peel-Grey.

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