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Ernie Eves

Ernest Eves (born June 17, 1946) was the twenty-third Premier of the province of Ontario, Canada from April 15, 2002.

The Hon. Ernie Eves
Term of Office:April 15, 2002 - October 23, 2003
Predecessor:Mike Harris
Successor:Dalton McGuinty
Date of Birth:June 17, 1946
Place of Birth:Windsor, Ontario
Political Party:PC

Ernie Eves was born into a working class family in Windsor, Ontario in 1946. As a teenager, Eves moved with his family to the northern logging town of Parry Sound, Ontario. Eves went to law school, and then in 1981 ran for the provincial parliament in Parry Sound. He won by only six votes in his first election, but then kept his seat for the next twenty years, leading to the nickname "Landslide Ernie".

Eves is a long time close friend of fellow northern Ontario MPP Mike Harris. In 1990 Eves backed Harris' bid for the party leadership. In 1995 after being elected on a Reagan-style program of tax cuts and government cutbacks, Eves was appointed Harris' finance minister and right-hand man. Eves went on to supervise unprecedented cuts to public services and also to pass legislation cutting the taxes of Ontarians.

Despite the close friendship and similar backgrounds and beliefs of Harris and Eves, the two have very different personalities. While Harris tried to be the embodiment of a grass-roots politician, often not wearing a suit and spending limited amounts on food, Eves is just the opposite. Eves was always meticulously well-turned-out in expensive suits, for which the government gave him a $25 000 a year clothing allowance.

Eves' personal life in the last few years of the Harris government were tumultuous. His son was killed in a traffic accident in Parry Sound, and soon after his long-standing marriage broke down. Eves began a relationship with a fellow cabinet colleague, Isabel Bassett, and he and his wife separated. In 2001 Eves decided to resign from his post of Finance Minister to seek opportunities in the private sector.

His retirement was only very brief, however. When Mike Harris stepped down as Conservative leader, Eves decided to run. Eves immediately became the front-runner and most Tory MPP's and members of the party came to support him. At the Tory convention the almost rhyming slogan "I Believe in Eves" was ubiquitous and Eves easily defeated Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement, the other two challengers. He became leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party on March 23, 2002.

On April 15, 2002, Eves was sworn in as Ontario's 23rd Premier. His time in office was a difficult one, however, as the government was still trying to recover from the Walkerton affair, where government cutbacks contributed to the deaths of seven people from contaminated water, when fresh problems broke out. The most severe of these was the privatization of the power system. Observing what had happened in California and seeing rates already begin to skyrocket with partial privatization the Ontario public became disgruntled. The government was forced to cancel the privatization and cap hydro rates, costing the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Eves also made a highly controversial decision to present the 2003 Ontario budget at a private function held at an Ontario factory, rather than to Parliament. This not only broke with parliamentary protocol, but ensured that the budget would not be the subject of debate in Parliament. Traditional Conservative supporters strongly criticised the decision as the presentation would be much more expensive than the traditional means. Many suspected that the government had been unable to finalise a budget until after Parliament broke for Easter recess, and a presentation outside of the house was the only way to avoid a late presentation.

Soon afterwards, Chris Stockwell, one of Eves' cabinet ministers, ran into trouble when he used public money to pay for a family trip to Europe, and was forced to resign.

In the summer of 2003 the power issue has come back to cause further trouble for Eves. During its time in office the Tory government had failed to make any substantial investments in new sources of power. Warm weather and the use of air conditioners pushed the Ontario hydro grid to the brink, and after the 2003 North American blackout, the provincial power utility was forced to buy expensive power from neighbouring producers in Quebec. During that time, Eves made daily television appearance announcing developments in the situation and appealing to the public to conserve as much electricity as possible during the period. As a result of this exposure, Eves enjoyed a moderate uptick in the polls which suggested that he was ready to face the voters.

In September 2003, Eves called an election for 2 October 2003. His government was 15 points behind Dalton McGuinty's Liberals in the polls heading into the election, and despite the reputation of the Ontario Tories for pulling off Houdini acts, Eves was unable to close the gap. Much of the Tory platform closely resembled the platform that Jim Flaherty had campaigned on in the leadership race, and Eves was visibly uncomfortable defending policy proposals that he had opposed a year earlier. When a Tory campaign staffer distributed a press release referring to Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty as an evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet, many voters were turned off by the attack. On October 2, 2003, the Liberals won 72 of the 103 seats in the Legislature, and Eves' Tories won just 24.

Preceded by:
Mike Harris
List of Ontario premiers Succeeded by:
Dalton McGuinty