Most Ontarians back Premier Dalton McGuinty’s stunning decision to resign, believe he leaves behind a negative legacy, and oppose his controversial suspension of the legislature, a new poll has found.
The Toronto Star-Angus Reid Public Opinion survey also suggests there is no obvious heir apparent to McGuinty as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and that any jump into federal politics by the premier would be “a bad idea.”
“This is a premier who has not been popular in this province for a very long time. Despite that, he was able to eke out a minority government in the last election,” Jodi Shanoff, senior vice-president of Angus Reid, said Friday.
More than two-thirds of those polled — 69 per cent — support McGuinty’s departure with only 18 per cent opposed and 14 per cent having no opinion.
A similar number — 65 per cent — said the premier is leaving a negative legacy after nine years in power with 29 per cent maintaining it was positive and 6 per cent unsure.
Respondents pointed to managing the province’s finances — 29 per cent — and dealing with labour unions — 17 per cent — as where he had the most negative impact.
As to his positive impact, 15 per cent said he promoted the province as a great place to live and work and 14 per cent heralded his successes in education.
McGuinty’s move to prorogue the legislature Monday as part of his resignation was opposed by two-thirds — 66 per cent — with 14 per cent endorsing it and 19 per cent uncertain.
The online survey of 802 people was conducted Tuesday and Wednesday and is considered accurate to within 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Results suggest it is timely for McGuinty to depart, with less than a quarter of respondents — 23 per cent — holding a positive view of him.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak also fared poorly with just 26 per cent of those polled viewing him in a positive light.
But about half of those surveyed — 49 per cent — had a positive impression of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“People are just parking themselves with Andrea Horwath more than anything right now and lining up behind her,” said Shanoff.
“Of all of the names we tested she’s the only one who comes across with a net positive,” she said.
There does not yet seem to be a saviour on the horizon to lead the Liberals to a fourth term in office when the party selects a new leader, likely in January.
Angus Reid tested nine of the possible contenders with all appearing “largely unknown” to Ontarians, said Shanoff.
In terms of positive impressions, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan was at 23 per cent, Health Minister Deb Matthews at 17 per cent, Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne at 16 per cent, Energy Minister Chris Bentley at 11 per cent, Education Minister Laurel Broten at 11 per cent, Children and Youth Services Minister Eric Hoskins at 9 per cent, Training Colleges and Universities Minister Glen Murray at 9 per cent, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa at 9 per cent, and MPP Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre), the Ontario Liberal Party president, at 5 per cent.
Overall, the Tories are at 36 per cent, the NDP at 32 per cent, the Liberals at 26 per cent, and the Green Party at 5 per cent.
That suggests the minority Liberals, who have been in office since 2003 and have bounced back from double-digit deficits before, are far from finished with a spring election expected.
“It’s more a warning than an actual state of affairs that the Liberals have now slipped into third place. I think they’re going to languish there until they offer up a new leader and a new vision,” said Shanoff.
While a few diehard loyalists hope the 57-year-old McGuinty will contest the federal Liberal leadership against front-running MP Justin Trudeau, that’s unlikely and poll respondents think he’s wise to take a pass.
Indeed, 69 per cent said seeking the federal Liberal post was “a bad idea” with only 12 per cent thinking it was a “good idea” and 29 per cent holding no opinion. Even 66 per cent of those who voted Liberal in the 2011 Ontario election shared that view.
On Friday, McGuinty joked about his exit during a speech to the Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, long-time Liberal supporters.
“There’s been some interesting reaction to my decision. On the night that I announced, my son, Liam, was in a gym working out … and the news comes on the TV. So one guy says, ‘Holy s–, McGuinty quits.’ The other guy says, ‘Who?’” the premier said.
More seriously, he defended the unexpected prorogation to booing from a lone dissenter in the otherwise friendly crowd of 300 people.
“Our minority government has hit a roadblock so we’re going to tackle it another way,” McGuinty said of the attempts to negotiate with public sector labour leaders to work out a deal to avoid wage-freeze legislation.