Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty  surprised many at Queen’s Park last week ( October 15th ) by announcing to his Liberal caucus that he will leave politics as soon as a leadership convention chooses his successor.   That leadership convention has been called for the last weekend of January, 2013.

McGuinty, a 57-year-old Ottawa lawyer, has been premier of Canada’s most populous province since October of 2003.  He has led the Liberal Party of Ontario since December, 1996 and has won three of four general elections in which he has been party leader.

In making his retirement announcement,  McGuinty told his colleagues that now was “ the right time for Ontario’s next Liberal Premier and our next set of ideas to guide our province forward”.   Highlighting his major accomplishments in office, McGuinty cited progress in areas like education, health care, the environment and tax reform.

But there was more than a retirement message from the departing Premier on the evening of October 15th.  To the consternation of many,  McGuinty also revealed at his press conference that he had asked Lieutenant-Governor David Onley to prorogue the current session of the Ontario Legislature.  The Premier gave as his reason for proroguing the legislature his wish to conclude a negotiated settlement with Ontario’s public sector unions away from the rancorous politics of the daily Question Period.

The legislature is now prorogued with the result that all legislative business has stopped until after the Liberal leadership convention in late January.   Among the legislative proceedings shut down by this prorogation was an Opposition-led inquiry into two controversial power plants initially planned for the southwest GTA and now to be re-located to Sarnia and the Napanee area of eastern Ontario.  It seems that energy issues are destined to follow the Liberals throughout their leadership campaign and beyond.

Among those who are considering a run for the leadership are the current finance minister Dwight Duncan, a long-serving MPP from Windsor,; Kathleen Wynne, the current minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and a well-known Toronto MPP;  and Gerard Kennedy, the former Liberal MPP and MP for Toronto High-Park and the first education minister in the McGuinty cabinet.  Other ministers like Charles Sousa ( Citizenship ) and Glen Murray ( Higher Education ) are also known to thinking about joining the race.

 Much speculation surrounds the leadership intentions of Energy Minister Chris Bentley and Health Minister Deb Matthews.   Both Bentley and Matthews are London MPPs and both have been caught up in very controversial issues recently.  Deb Matthews has been on the Queen’s Park ‘ hot seat ‘  for months over dramatic revelations of maladministration at Ornge, Ontario’s embattled air-ambulance system.  And Chris Bentley, long considered a front runner to succeed Dalton McGuinty , has been bogged down in the nasty battle to locate power plants in the GTA.  Their decisions will be critical to the outcome of this contest.

Once a new Liberal leader and premier is chosen in late January,  that new premier may either meet the legislature with a new cabinet and a new program or, as happened federally in the spring of 1968, the new premier might follow Pierre Trudeau’s example of going directly to the people for a new mandate in a general election.  Either way, Ontario is in for some uncertainty over the next few months.