If politicians are sometimes slow to learn from their mistakes, they almost always learn from their successes. Nowhere has this been more true than in the case of Jean Chretien. The Prime Minister assumed the highest office in the land in 1993, fully formed and developed as a politician. In his 32 years in office, he has assimilated a deep understanding of the inner workings of government and a keen sense of Canada and Canadians. This tutelage has taught him that the electorate he serves eschews extremism and instead values order, calm and stability. Over the years, he has adjusted his style and approach to government accordingly.

In a period of growing cynicism about politicians and diminishing expectations of the ability of government to solve problems, he has chosen incrementalism over vision. He does not anticipate problems; he nibbles away at their edges, as they arise. He may rattle his sabre at his enemies in public, but then will bend over backwards to find consensus behind closed doors. His ministers and caucus, who owe their position and victories to him, have marched in time with his slow, tempered drumming and adopted this style as their own. Three successive electoral wins have reinforced the wisdom of his approach.

Few who have observed Mike Harris would describe him as inspirational, charismatic or visionary. The Ontario premier, who announced last week that he will step down as soon as his Progressive Conservative party chooses a successor, is a common, straightforward man of solid middle-class stock who takes pride in a no-nonsense, practical approach to problems. Yet, over a six-year tenure, he changed Canada’s most unchangeable province in a way it hadn’t experienced in five decades.

When Harris assumed office in 1995, his government inherited a $10-billion deficit and an electorate who believed their affairs had been badly mismanaged by Liberals and New Democrats for eight years. While voters were looking for little more than stability and good government, Harris had campaigned on a right-of-centre platform that included a pledge to keep every promise he made. In stark contrast to others who have made similar promises, he did precisely that.

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