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Lessons learned from a life in public service

Former Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks to Queen’s political studies students.

Room 202 in Sutherland Hall was filled to capacity on Monday as former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty took part in a guest lecture and Q&A session with students from the Department of Political Studies. During the talk, which was co-sponsored by the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Mr. McGuinty touched on a number of lessons he learned during his 23-year political career.

Dalton McGuinty, former Premier of Ontario, speaks to Queen's Political Studies students on January 11.

“I never thought I would go into politics,” he says. “Most of us coat ourselves with a thin veneer of cynicism but, at heart, we want to make a difference.”

During the course of the one-hour talk, Mr. McGuinty covered a wide range of topics, under the overarching theme of “finding ways to engage with Canadians.” He discussed lessons learned on leadership, partisanship and dealing with difficult circumstances.

“To have former Premier Dalton McGuinty speaking to a standing-room only crowd, comprised predominantly of students, speaks volumes about the commitment of Queen's students to politics, policy and the value of public service,” says Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Director, Institute of Intergovernmental Relations.

“Mr. McGuinty's talk was honest and enlightening, and adds important practical expertise to students with a passion for the study of politics and policy - all the more so as many of our students will go on to public life in decades to come.”

He repeatedly stressed the importance of collective action in tackling the most pressing societal issues. Calling on students to become politically and socially active citizens, he said that a society that fails to draw on the creativity and energy of its youth does itself a great disservice. Emphasizing this point, the former premier recalled one of his father’s favourite maxims.

“He would tell my siblings and me, all 10 of us, that ‘no one here is as strong as all of us are. No one here is as smart as all of us are.’”

After his talk, Mr. McGuinty answered questions from the audience on topics ranging from post-secondary funding to partisanship and even his regrets from this time as premier.

After retiring from elected office in 2013, Mr. McGuinty completed a fellowship at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He is currently the special advisor to the president of Desire2Learn and a senior fellow at the School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Toronto. His 2015 book, Making a Difference, covers his 23-year term in public life, from facing defeat in his first election, to the victories and challenges that followed.