March 20, 2009
Dear Fellow Progressive Conservatives:
Today, I stepped aside as the Leader of our great Party, safe in the knowledge that the leadership will be in the capable, experienced hands of Bob Runciman while we await the selection of my successor. I hope you will give Bob your complete and total support in the months ahead.
I wanted to write you this short note, inadequate as it may be, to express my thanks to each and every one of you for the privilege I was given to serve as your Leader.
40 years ago this year, I signed up the same way most of you did to help a local candidate deliver flyers. Since then, I have been given the opportunity, almost always as a volunteer, to do every possible job one could do in the political world. In that process, I have made many friends, and I have learned a lot about other people, about the difference one can make and about myself. I have learned a lot about the Party too.
I have learned that we are at our best when we are united and we don’t do well when we aren’t. In my experience, the unity that is so necessary only comes when the Party members, starting with the Leader and the Caucus place the Party’s interests first. When they do that, it is because they have come to understand an important reality, namely that the Party and the enduring values it stands for, are bigger and more important than any one of us. So too, is the public interest which we should all be seeking to advance through the political process.
I have learned that we are at our best when we make everyone feel welcome in our Party and don’t try, intentionally or otherwise, to treat our membership as any kind of exclusive preserve, not open to anyone and everyone who wants to join our cause. I worked very hard to reach out to people who had incorrectly concluded we weren’t interested in having them involved in our Party. It is crucial to continue with that work so that our ideas, policies and candidates can truly represent all of the people of Ontario. The easier part is to make Progressive Conservatives feel good about themselves and that is important. The harder part is to make more people in Ontario feel good about becoming Progressive Conservative supporters. We can’t form government if we don’t do both.
I have also been reminded by this experience how important it is to maintain your integrity at all times, even as one may be tempted to do otherwise. While I am disappointed that we did not win the government on my watch, I would be even more disappointed if we had adopted the kind of “winning at all costs” approach which has dragged down the reputation of politicians and has contributed to the current shambles in parts of the business community. Whether you pick a man or woman, rural or urban, veteran or newcomer, make sure you pick a person of steadfast integrity to lead us. It matters more than anything else.
People all across Ontario are looking to us for leadership now. They feel abandoned by a government that only knows how to tax and to spend. Once there was no more money and once the public relations flim-flam was exposed, they too were exposed as having no plan and no idea what to do.
That is why we must get through the leadership process without a lot of internally inflicted wounds. Quite frankly, I have always disliked leadership selection processes, as a participant and as a candidate, because they forced our membership to divide up. That is a part of democracy, but there is a special responsibility we have to place limits on how we compete within the family and to make a special effort after the contest is over to come back together as quickly as we can. I will be most anxious to help in that process in any way possible.
While we can point to some significant successes in outreach, a new and hugely open policy development process and in the financial position of our Party under my leadership, I am sorry we didn’t do better than we did in the Party standings during my tenure. I must ultimately accept responsibility for that, regardless of the contributing factors.
But I think the foundation has been strengthened and I know the will is there among the Party membership to go that next step not for us, but for the people of Ontario.
I want to conclude by thanking you for the warmth of the greeting you always given me as I travelled the province. I almost completed three visits to every riding in the province in less than five years as Leader, and without exception, I was enthusiastically welcomed by people who love our Party and our Province as I do.
I want to thank you for your patience. We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we made progress on rebuilding a great and enduring Party, at opening it up, at re-establishing grassroots policy making and making sure our Party was in the mainstream of Ontario thinking.
While I have retired from the leadership of the Party, I couldn’t possibly retire from the Party itself. And so, I am back to where I started 40 years ago, as a member of the Party like you, looking for the opportunity to serve and to work hard for our election in 2011, in whatever way will help the most.
Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to serve and to lead. I will look forward to seeing you at the riding meetings, the policy conferences and on the campaign trail in the years to come.