TORONTO — It took a while, but the first wheel finally fell off Dalton McGuinty’s government.
Harinder Takhar remains in cabinet because he withstood allegations that he was “egregiously reckless” in the way he handled his business affairs.
David Caplan was able to bluster his way through the controversy surrounding insider fraud at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.
But Mike Colle couldn’t survive a damning report that concluded he shovelled $32-million to multicultural groups in the province with barely a nod to standard administrative procedures.
The flip thing to say is, as a colleague suggested, that Mr. McGuinty has finally lived up to his promise to phase out Colle by 2007.
But Liberal strategists will be in no mood for humour today, because Mr. Colle’s resignation could scarcely have happened at a worse time. We are just 11 weeks from the Oct. 10 election day (surely Mr. McGuinty must now be regretting his zeal for fixed election dates), and there is hardly any time to repair the damage caused by the minister’s resignation.
Once again, the Premier will have no one to blame but himself.
The furor over the year-end grants to groups seen to be friendly with the Liberal Party began last April with a story that the Bengali Cultural Society received $250,000.
The story had legs because one of the organization’s executives was vice-president of the riding association of Liberal MP Maria Minna.
The next day, we found out that the Iranian-Canadian Community Centre was given $200,000 just three weeks after it registered as a charity and that its directors included a Liberal candidate in the coming election.
The opposition called for Mr. Colle’s head. Instead of acceding, the government embarked on what Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory characterizes as days of “denial, ducking and stonewalling.”
The grants issue dominated Question Period until Mr. McGuinty could stand it no more and recessed the legislature three weeks early, a few hours before Mr. Colle was scheduled to be grilled before a legislative committee.
The Conservatives asked about 270 questions in that period. They received no answers and, worse, were on the receiving end of insinuations that they were motivated by racist attitudes.
There’s a rule in politics that a minister should step aside when he or she becomes the story. The Premier, perhaps emboldened by his success in staring down attacks on Mr. Takhar and Mr. Caplan, broke this rule. He could have dealt with the controversy by kicking Mr. Colle out of his cabinet last April with the prospect that voters would soon forget.
Instead, he allowed it to build momentum and now, with voting day on the horizon, will have to deal with what Auditor-General Jim McCarter said is the reasonable perception that political favouritism underlay the whole sorry mess.
Mr. McGuinty said yesterday that the process Mr. Colle followed was “clearly inadequate,” but he shouldn’t have needed Mr. McCarter to tell him that. Anyone watching the minister squirm during his daily grilling by reporters would have come to the same conclusion.
In the coming weeks, you will hear a lot from opposition politicians about the cricket association that asked for $150,000 after it was invited to apply for funding and the next day received $1-million. It had so much money that it spent $20,000 to throw a celebratory dinner (at which Mr. McGuinty spoke) and then socked away $500,000 in five-year, investment certificates.
Parents of autistic children or those running bake sales to buy school textbooks will scratch their heads. And thanks to Mr. McGuinty’s faulty political instincts, they won’t have time to forget before they head to the polls.