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Grits feel faith in McGuinty fully justified

From Friday's Globe and Mail

Ottawa — Ontario premier-designate Dalton McGuinty immediately turned his attention last night to the job of governing, telling jubilant supporters that their landslide victory means fulfilling promises for smaller classrooms, shorter hospital waits and a cleaner environment.

Saying his government will not be perfect, Mr. McGuinty told about 500 cheering Liberals that the incoming government cannot break the faith with the millions of Ontarians who delivered the massive majority.

During his victory speech at Ottawa's Chateau Laurier Hotel, Mr. McGuinty was flanked on the stage by his wife, Terri, and four children; sons Dalton, Jr., Liam and Conor and daughter Carleen. The Liberal Leader embraced his wife warmly as the crowd chanted her name. Mr. McGuinty joked that he was getting used to living in his wife's shadow. "She is the foundation of our family; she is the best friend a person could ever have."

Speaking from the podium of the historic ballroom where Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau once welcomed Canadians to the 1980s, Mr. McGuinty also gave a nod to the newness of his government, saying the promises he made will be kept, although it may take some time to get there.

In his speech, he warned his own MPs that the Ontario electorate will not tolerate failure. "This government belongs to the people . . . and there is no room in their government for complacency or arrogance."

After his speech, he said he was eager to get down to work. "I'm honoured and humbled with the clarity and strength of the mandate," he said. "I look forward to getting to work as soon as possible."

Mr. McGuinty becomes the first Ontario premier to hail from the nation's capital. The victory was a sweet reward for the patience of his hometown supporters.

Liberals from across the city, many who had stuck with their leader despite almost a decade of criticism and dashed expectations, saw their decisions affirmed within 30 minutes of the polls closing.

"I think people finally got to see him for what he really was," said John Fraser, one of about 500 who showed up at the Ottawa hotel to mark the victory. "That's a good, strong, hard-working and honest guy."

Mr. Fraser added that last night's victory would have been especially fine for Mr. McGuinty's late father — also named Dalton — who held the seat of Ottawa South before his son took it over in 1990.

Mr. McGuinty himself named his dad in his speech — noting that he probably would have said it needed some work. He also congratulated departing Progressive Conservative Leader Ernie Eves, saying he was handed the baton in the final, most gruelling portion of a long-distance race.

Mr. McGuinty's victory came four years after a devastating loss in a campaign where he was criticized as wooden and colourless. This time around, however, the Liberal Leader used a self-deprecating sense of humour and sincere approach to connect with Ontario voters.

Still, there were those who believed his victory rested as much on a bad Tory campaign as on his own refurbished image.

University of Western Ontario political scientist Sid Noel said that Mr. McGuinty benefited from the inadequacies of the Tory campaign, but that he was also a far better candidate than in 1999.

Prof. Noel also said Mr. McGuinty's good nature may soon be tested, depending on how quickly he can implement his campaign pledges

To meet those goals, Mr. McGuinty will not have the option of raising taxes. The premier-elect is hemmed in on this front because of his decision during the campaign to sign a pledge with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation saying he would not raise taxes without the explicit consent of Ontario voters, meaning he will have to rely on a robust economy.

If that doesn't materialize, Mr. McGuinty will have to find a way to say no, and few pundits would venture a guess as to whether he's tough enough to do so.

"If he goes around saying 'Sorry, we have to postpone this and postpone that,' it will be a real test for him," Prof. Noel said.

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