by John McGrath, CBC Radio News
Sept. 12, 2003
There are times on the Liberal bus when it seems more like a crusade than a political campaign. I don't mean this to be critical or dismissive. The people behind Dalton McGuinty are well organized, and nimble. And the candidate himself is a far better performer than he was even just a few months ago.
But there's an unusual tenor and tone to this campaign, one that I haven't heard since the sixties (Okay, so I'm dating myself). Its idealism reminds me of the way Martin Sheen's and Rob Lowe's characters talk about politics on the TV show, The West Wing.
Ontario's Liberal leader is trying to do politics differently.
You see it best during the evening rallies at the headquarters of the local candidates. McGuinty warms up the audience with a couple of campaign jokes then begins his routine exhortation to the audience to "choose change."
This is where he starts speaking from the heart, to a degree you usually don't see from politicians in a campaign.
McGuinty's voice often catches, and he seems to struggle with his emotions as he talks about why he got into politics, and how he wants to change things.
For a good example of this, listen to part of his speech to a packed rally Tuesday night at the campaign headquarters for Chris Bentley, the Liberal candidate in London West (runs 4:18).
"We're appealing to what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature," McGuinty said Tuesday. "We're appealing to people's better instincts.
"I got into politics, and I stay in politics because I believe there is this abiding conviction throughout humanity that says it's important that we work together, it's important that we build together, it's important that we dream together."
The big question, though, is whether the public is ready to listen to our better angels, or whether they prefer something more akin to professional wrestling.
Keep in mind, the Conservatives are throwing just about everything at Dalton McGuinty, except the kitchen sink. The first Tory campaign ad uses the catch line, "He's still not up to the job." The premier said McGuinty would bring on a 90s-style recession if he were elected. As well, one PC backbencher said McGuinty threatens family values because he's not opposed to same-sex marriages. And that's just a sampling.
The Liberal leader has refused to hit back. He's said he's not going to go personal the way Eves and the Conservatives have. He's taking "the high road," as reporters have dubbed it. The Liberals are leaving such dirty work to others, including pit bull George Smitherman and party president Greg Sorbara. The Liberals are trying to make a virtue out of necessity here because it's clear, after watching McGuinty for a while, that he doesn't like that less savoury side of politics, and doesn't do it well.
McGuinty's aides are upset, though, that this refusal to attack is being interpreted, by some, as a sign the Liberal leader "isn't tough enough." That's one of the reasons why we saw him hit the government hard while he was in Walkerton on Thursday. He said, among other things, that another tragedy like Walkerton would occur if the Conservatives were re-elected.
The Liberal insiders also think they've now got an opportunity in the campaign to make their points. The first frenzied week is over, and the campaign has moved into a new phase where the parties try to figure out which of their policies and attacks are touching the hearts and minds of the voters.
That, say the Liberals, is where you will see McGuinty make his toughest attacks on the government.