This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on April 8, 2002
Eves New Ontario PC LeaderNow there are four. The ascension of Ernie EVES to Ontario's top job, if ascension is the right word - he just squatted there in the mushy middle of a leadership race, trying not to say much - will make him the fourth serving premier to inherit the job on someone else's ticket. And nary a here's-where-I-stand general election in sight. Does no one care about these sorts of obligations anymore?
Eves, in fact, has formally promised not to send Ontario to the polls for at least another 14 to 18 months. He means this to be reassuring. Next door in Quebec, Bernard LANDRY, like the NDP's Lorne CALVERT in Saskatchewan and Liberal Roger GRIMES in Newfoundland, has already been governing for over a year on his predecessor's mandate. Though there are signs Grimes may be gearing up for his own: he recently promised a royal commission on how the feds are shortchanging Newfoundland.
In the case of Eves, the former treasurer in the heady years of slash-and-change politics returns to the fray with a little extra baggage. For the past 13 months he's been enjoying a choice Bay Street job, a $78,007 severance package from the legislature on top of an $800,000 pension payout for his 20 years of service, and a lovely house in upscale Rosedale with his new love, former cabinet colleague Isabel Bassett, the savvy chairwoman of TVOntario. Throw in messy divorce proceedings, during which Eves admitted to spending $25,000 a year on clothes, and this is not the usual office-seeking resumé of someone who sees himself as an ordinary guy from Smallville. Of course, this is Ontario after the Mike HARRIS revolution. A what-me-worry attitude is in the air.
Who cares that 33,000 public servants are on strike? Or that ambulance response times have shot up again? Or that more vice-principals and librarians are facing the axe? Few even seem ruffled that after seven years of phenomenal growth, the provincial debt is $20 billion more than when Harris came to power in 1995. Or that Ontario is looking a $4-billion deficit in the teeth. There's no budget date set. There's not even a finance minister.
The incumbent, Flame-thrower Jim Flaherty, is vacationing in Mexico, licking his wounds after losing the leadership to Eves. So what that he called his new boss a man of no conviction and a "pale-pink" imitation of Liberal opponent Dalton McGuinty? For the sake of unity, Flaherty may even get his old job back. Consultation over confrontation is the Eves mantra. He seems to want to be the Mel Tormé, the velvet fog, of Ontario politics.
Judging by the press coverage, however, there are at least some important issues to be plumbed. One is whether the 55-year-old Eves will change his well-gelled hairstyle (he's given up the French cuffs but still looks like the guy who drove the getaway car during the Harris revolution, which he kind of did). The other is whether he can mend the Tory's ideological split.
An amiable party vet - with a temper but genuine compassion that transcends partisan lines - Eves won the caucus and the stalwarts easily. Flaherty had the activists who conceived and ran the Harris campaigns; they made a show of not moving to the winner at the bell. Get outside the partisan walls, mind you, and a bigger concern might be why, in a governing party with 101,023 signed-up members, fewer than half bothered to vote and, of these, 10,000 drifted away before the second and final ballot. Maybe that's why an election's on hold. The fear - or is it the hope? - that there are so few people out there paying enough attention.
Maclean's April 8, 2002