Dalton McGuinty Visits Queen’s
Following a short speech at a ceremony celebrating the 201st anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. MacDonald, Former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty visited Queen’s University and met with a capacity crowd at Robert Sutherland Hall last week.
McGuinty is promoting his recently published book, Making a Difference. The book is an autobiographical account of his life in politics interspersed with advice and a message that youth should consider involving themselves in the political process.
Joined by former MP and longest-serving Speaker in Canadian history, Peter Milliken, as well as former MPP and Attorney-General John Gerretsen, McGuinty took questions on matters ranging from the current provincial debt to youth engagement in politics.
Among his proudest accomplishments, McGuinty listed the creation of the Greenbelt, the elimination of coal-fired electricity generation, and the expansion of full-day kindergarten.
Admitting that his three-terms as Premier were not without shortcomings, he highlighted his regret at not having done more to slow or stop the province’s political slide into partisanship.
After having spent a year as a fellow at the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs at Harvard University, McGuinty is now recruiting future politicians. While his comments were geared at a wide audience and his advice was centered on those considering a role in public office, many elements of his message were relevant to future lawyers regardless of whether they hold political aspirations.
Character Versus Reputation
McGuinty contrasted character (who you really are) and reputation (who people think you are) and suggested that real leaders are those who place character above reputation.
A good leader, he proposed, is one who does what they think is right, not what is easy or convenient. McGuinty explained that character and reputation in politics and business are interwoven. A character-first approach that focuses on doing the right thing in private when no one will ever find out becomes a habit. A habit of doing the right thing will eventually come to define one’s reputation.
Character-driven decisions are not always easy and may have some costly consequences. McGuinty stands by the political decisions he says were driven by ‘doing the right’ thing. Among them, the controversial decision to cancel gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville. Although that decision cost him the leadership, he feels he made the right call.
Don’t Attack the Category
McGuinty also counseled future politicians to take some lessons from the private sector. Too often politicians fail to realize that attacking each other is an attack on all politicians, themselves included.
In 23 years of question period, McGuinty observed a steady slide towards angry, dramatic, over-the-top displays of bravado rather than thoughtful, considered questions that sought real answers from the government.
Motivated by the addition of television cameras in the legislature, he feels that many MPPs were looking for the quick win gained from marginalizing their opponents.
“A habit of doing the right thing will eventually come to define one’s reputation.”
Unfortunately, that merely serves to ruin the public’s perception of politicians as a collective. Not attacking the category, McGuinty explained, is a golden rule amongst car manufacturers. While GM and Honda produce competing products, they are careful not to attack the other directly because a negative view of any car company tends to turn into a negative view of all car companies.
In both fields, McGuinty suggests that “compromise” should not be seen as a bad word. He often got more done over dinner than in meetings. Eliminating the constructed barriers of mediations, conferences, or negotiations also eliminates the engrained sense of ‘battling’ with the other side.
Having maneuvered a number of difficult negotiations, including drastic public sector wage freezes and auto sector bailouts, McGuinty believes the most effective resolutions are found when working one-to-one and away from the bargaining table.
Find the Challenge That ‘Flips Your Switch’
McGuinty’s parting message to those in attendance who felt the pull of politics or a desire to advocate was to ask themselves, “What am I ready to go to the wall for? What is the challenge or issue that flips my switch?” Once you have stumbled on what is important to you, pursue it. This is sound advice, especially for budding lawyers at the onset of their careers.
For McGuinty, it was provincial politics that flipped his switch 23 years ago. Today, he is encouraging everyone to engage with the political process and combat the partisanship that so often dominates today’s business, policy, and political circles.
Alexander Steele is a Staff Writer for Juris Diction. He is a 2L student.