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TORONTO - Beaten down by a series of scandals, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced late Monday he was stepping down as Liberal leader and adjourning the legislature because his minority government can't pass legislation to freeze public sector wages.
After 16 years as party leader and nine as premier, it's time for new blood, McGuinty told a surprised Liberal caucus as his wife Terri and brother Brendan looked on.
"It’s time for renewal, it’s time for the next Liberal premier, it’s time for the next set of Liberal ideas to guide our province forward," McGuinty told the caucus.
"To that end, I spoke with the president of our party and asked that he convene a leadership convention at the earliest possible opportunity."
The Liberals have been under fire for months for an out-of-control air ambulance service and faced a second contempt motion Monday for cancelling two gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to taxpayers.
However, McGuinty blamed the fight over a public sector wage freeze for his second surprise: adjourning the legislature. He vowed the Liberals would try to negotiate zero-increase agreements with the unions — something the NDP has demanded — and would also use the break to negotiate with the Progressive Conservatives.
"I met with the LG earlier today and asked that we prorogue the house so that we can pursue both discussions, both tracks, in a way that is free of the heightened rancour that has sadly, too frequently, characterized our legislature of late," said McGuinty.
The government needs the wage freeze for about 481,000 public sector workers to trim the $14.4-billion deficit, and McGuinty said proroguing will give the government time to find out exactly what the opposition parties want to approve the plan.
There's no obvious successor to McGuinty, but names often spoken of as potential leadership candidates include Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan and Energy Minister Chris Bentley, who has been the focus of the opposition attacks and original contempt motion over the cancelled gas plants.
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak set aside the angry rhetoric of recent weeks Monday to remember how McGuinty came over to shake his hand and welcome the newly-elected Tory to the legislature when he was first elected.
Hudak also thanked McGuinty for his years of public service.
McGuinty told the caucus the Liberals have made some mistakes in government, but got the big things right in education, health care and the environment.By
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