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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

McGuinty given a hero's welcome on road home

Globe and Mail
Thursday, Oct. 2, 2003

OTTAWA — Dalton McGuinty took a 12-hour bus ride from Toronto to his Ottawa home yesterday, basking in polls that showed his Liberals would win a landslide victory in today's election. The official policy on the journey was that unborn poultry shouldn't be counted. And so Mr. McGuinty repeatedly put on his grim face -- he does this exceedingly well -- and said in a variety of ways that ''it's not over by a long shot.''

But someone forgot to tell his supporters. All along Highway 401 -- in Whitby, Belleville and Brockville -- they turned out in largish numbers, convinced he will form the next government.

You half expected palm fronds to be littering the highway.

"We really and truly are introducing the next Premier," Liberal candidate Ernie Parsons told 250 people at a Belleville rally, in a knowing nod to the countless times that no-hope party leaders are described as sure winners.

On its own, yesterday's itinerary suggested the Liberals are cruising to victory. Four years ago, the McGuinty team spent the last days of the campaign virtually holed up in Hamilton in an attempt to gain back support it had lost earlier in the election. This time, Mr. McGuinty did not need to spend his time trying to stand still. His 29th and final day of electioneering was spent in ridings held by Progressive Conservatives that had previously been thought impregnable.

Mr. McGuinty wasn't just flying the flag. His staff say they have a chance of victory in places where Liberals used to be on the endangered-species list. The fact that the party has money at this late stage to conduct any polling, particularly regional surveys, underscores that it is rolling in money. Incumbent Liberal MPPs report that people they have never met before are coming to their campaign offices bearing sizable cheques, while Bay Street observers note that the Liberals are sucking up corporate donations.

It's also noteworthy that Mr. McGuinty and his team say they didn't feel they had to revisit densely packed constituencies in the Greater Toronto Area. Instead, they opted to drive hundreds of kilometres to visit places where no one would have given them a chance.

In Brockville for his 91st and second-last stop of the campaign, the Liberal Leader noted that when his late father first ran for election in Ottawa South in 1987, the riding had voted Conservative since Confederation.

"People said we could never win in that riding," he told about 100 supporters hoping that Conservative cabinet minister Bob Runciman's 22-year grip on the riding will end today. "There are a lot of people who said the same kind of thing about this riding."

Earlier in Whitby, 150 people showed up for a breakfast rally at a shop across from the constituency office of Conservative cabinet minister Jim Flaherty. That's twice the number who attended a rally a few days ago when Conservative Leader Ernie Eves came to neighbouring Ajax with Mr. Flaherty and fellow ministers Janet Ecker and Jerry Ouellette in tow.

At every stop, Mr. McGuinty exuded a calm optimism while delivering a stump speech that drew on the same catalogue of phrases and jokes he employed throughout September. For the most part, he tried not to acknowledge what almost everyone in Ontario -- including senior Conservatives -- concedes is a certain Liberal victory today.

Don't take anything for granted, he said. Ignore the pollsters and pundits. It's up to the people of Ontario.

It took a couple of Toronto radio disc jockeys to break through this Maginot Line of modesty. Humble and Fred, who host a morning program on Mix 99.9, have interviewed Mr. McGuinty frequently since he became Liberal Leader in 1996. They simply asked him his thoughts on the eve of becoming premier.

"There will be some heavy responsibilities connected to the job, but my greater concern is to make sure the family remains tight because I'm going to be called upon to be away even more frequently," Mr. McGuinty said. "The biggest challenge for me will be to stay connected to the kids."



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