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Duncan's departure overshadowed by McGuinty's

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

Dwight Duncan, outgoing MPP for Windsor–Tecumseh,  Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Management and Deputy Premier, is seen here the day after Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature in October. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

Dwight Duncan, outgoing MPP for Windsor–Tecumseh, Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Management and Deputy Premier, is seen here the day after Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature in October. (Stan Behal/Toronto Sun)

BLIZZARD - 

Think of him as the bridesmaid — the guy always overshadowed by a blushing Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Dwight Duncan was never in the spotlight. And he didn’t even try to catch the bouquet. He’s not running to replace his boss.

While journalists have spilled tons of ink pondering McGuinty’s departure, Duncan’s exit has slipped by with little commentary.

Since I wasn’t one of the favoured columnists given a farewell interview with McGuinty, I decided to profile his faithful lieutenant instead — the guy who spent eight years in cabinet, first as Energy Minister, then in Finance.

Besides, Duncan’s more fun. You get the sense he’s the guy you can have a drink and a joke with. McGuinty? I’m thinking his idea of fun is an evening of poetry reading.

Born and raised in Windsor, Duncan recalls his early political heroes growing up in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s came from across the river in Detroit.

He was inspired by John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King.

His Canadian content was Pierre Trudeau.

“By the time I was in Grade 8, I’d read everything that was written on any of those people,” Duncan told me in an interview in his Frost building office at Queen’s Park.

“It’s not a partisan thing. There’s a whole generation of Conservatives who were inspired by people like Ronald Reagan,” he said. “More recently another generation of young people has been very inspired by Barack Obama.”

Duncan said he’s part of a generation that saw politics as a way to make the world a better place.

“I thought politics was probably next to a religious vocation – the noblest of callings.”

Duncan’s supporting Trudeau’s son, Justin, for the federal Liberal leadership — and hasn’t ruled out running federally himself.

Duncan started his career in provincial politics as a junior staff member in the labour ministry in David Peterson’s government.

It was there that he discovered the downside of partisan politics.

The government that had waited 42 long years to defeat Conservatives suddenly found themselves at war — with themselves.

Duncan was shocked.

“Within a month there were really significant battles within cabinet. From the outside, because of the way our rules work, caucus and cabinet have the principle of solidarity, but within, there were battles between ministers, between the premier’s office and members.”

He wouldn’t cite specifics, but says he was caught off guard.

“I thought, ‘Gee, all these years we’ve wanted to get here and now we get here, behind closed doors, we’re having all these battles,” he said.

Duncan hasn’t had major disagreements with McGuinty.

“He’s one of the most decent and thoroughly honourable guys I’ve ever known in my life,” he said of the departing premier.

“He’s not given to temper tantrums. He doesn’t yell when he doesn’t get his way. When he might disagree with you on something he kind of eases you to see where his point of view is,” he said.

The only thing that annoyed him about McGuinty was when the premier started researching on the Internet. Duncan would arrive in his office in the morning to a laundry list of requests from the premier’s office.

“My initial reaction is to tell them to please take his computer away,” he joked.

Duncan recalls his parents, Owen and Maureen, who both died in 2008, taking pride in his political career.

Years ago, when he was watching a re-run of Question Period on TV with his mom, she told him the two MPPs she enjoyed the most were, “that nice man from St. Catharines with a twinkle in his eye — Jim Bradley.

“And she said the other one I like is that really funny but kind of crazy guy from Welland – Mr. Kormos.”

Duncan told Peter Kormos the story. Late one night when he was speaking in the House, Kormos got up and said, “Mrs. Duncan, I know you’re watching. You’ve got to tell your son ....”

Duncan is looking forward to spending time with his son, Sean, 22 a student at St. Clair College.

He wants to golf and catch up with his beloved Detroit Tigers baseball team.

“My Tigers went to the World Series and I didn’t watch a single game,” he lamented.

He’s also slimmed down recently, and has learned to cook healthy as a result.

“I don’t cook by recipe. I do Italian very well.

“I think I was really intended to be someone’s nonna,” he quipped. (A nonna is an Italian grandmother).

All in all, it’s been a blast, he says. And a privilege.

“There are really good people in public life on all sides of the House and we don’t always stop and reflect on that,” he said.

Come to think of it, it could be he’s not McGuinty’s bridesmaid.

Perhaps he was the best man all along.

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