One of East York’s “favourite daughters” is among seven candidates running to succeed Dalton McGuinty as leader of the Ontario Liberals.
Kathleen Wynne, the MPP for Don Valley West since 2003, is considered one of the two or three frontrunners, especially after winning the endorsement of Deb Matthews, the provincial health minister.
Wynne herself has held a number of McGuinty cabinet protfolios, including education, transportation, and most recently, both municipal affairs-housing and aboriginal affairs.
If Wynne, 59, succeeds, she will be the first female Ontario premier. That will be decided at the party’s convention, scheduled for Maple Leaf Gardens, Jan. 25-27.
Wynne sat down with the Observer to discuss her platform and campaign:
Q: How did you make the decision to run for the Ontario Liberal leadership?
A: Well, when the premier made his announcement, we were all pretty surprised. Because I have had the experience of leading four ministries and I’ve been in office since 2000, I felt that I had something to bring to the table in terms of my experience. And I think right now, we need someone who can reach out and bring people together.
Q: Was it a difficult decision to leave cabinet?
A: One of the hardest things about this was stepping down from the work that I was doing. I was very engaged in both ministries, in both Municipal Affairs and Housing and Aboriginal Affairs, and was on the verge of bringing some recommendations in on some issues that I found particularly important, so that was a hard decision to make. This is a bit of a leap into the unknown.
Q: What would a term with Premier Kathleen Wynne look like?
A: I want to try to govern. I would propose we put together a throne speech and we finalize a budget, and we go back to the legislature and attempt to govern. I would want to have a quick, but complete discussion about what goes into the budget, and what problems we are facing. I would work with the opposition leaders to get support to implement the budget.
Q: Education was supposed to be McGuinty’s legacy. If you were elected, what would yours be?
A: Having spent the past nine years in the legislature, and being part of the team that helped repair damage done by the previous government, I would hope that my legacy would be strong public services, that we’d have an economy that was thriving, and that we shared understanding across rural and urban divides of what we want to be as a province. We are the biggest province.
Q: What would you say to critics who believe the next premier should come from outside the former McGuinty cabinet?
A: The experience I bring is invaluable: my ability to have a critical view on what we’ve done, to acknowledge all of the great things that we’ve done, to be able to start at the point where we are at now, and learn from the things that we have not done as well as we should have. I take responsibility for being a part of the cabinet, and for voicing my opinion all the way along.
Q: The Globe and Mail has said that you “give a voice to Liberals who think the party has drifted too far to the right with centralist control.” Do you think the Ontario Liberal party has drifted to the right?
A: Well, that’s what the Globe says. I describe myself as a progressive. I really believe government is a force for good in our communities. I’m very interested in resolving issues that have developed between us and teachers, and the broader public sector. I’m not the type of person who believes it’s the best idea to impose public sector agreements, for example. My hope would be that there are collective agreements in place and we won’t have to impose legislation in the new session. I think that we have been in very difficult economic times; we had to make some very difficult economic decisions. Those of us at the table really grappled with that. Some of the processes around those decisions haven’t been what they could have been and the premier has acknowledged that, and so my hope would be that we can repair those relationships, and then put in better relationships going forward.
Q: How do you plan on restoring good will and resolving issues with Ontario’s teachers?
A: For a number of years, since I was minister of education and we went through the last round of negotiations, there was some discussion about whether there should be a more formalized provincial bargaining process. It has to be co-created, and if there is a distance between me and other politicians at this point, I really believe in open collaboration. Let’s share ideas about the process. One of the first things that has to happen is bring the leadership in, and then bring the school boards, because they didn’t feel like they were part of the process, and that was partly because there is no statutory role for school boards in any provincial process. I would want to bring them together and have that conversation.
Q: What will you do to help fight the $14.4 billion deficit?
A: We need to continue to make the difficult decisions. When I say I want to work on labour, that doesn’t mean I want to back off compensation constraints. I think we have to continue to do that. The bigger issue is that we need to bring industry to Ontario. We need to look at other areas of the world that have business, that have capital, that want to come to Ontario. We need to make sure we’ve got the right conditions in place so those businesses will come. We have to have a plan where businesses can be confident about what we’ve invested in our infrastructure. In the GTA, that means transit investment, and that we take action to take care of the gridlock.
Q: Do you have any plans in handling student debt?
A: My commitment is to keep the 30 per cent tuition grant in place. I think the biggest challenge for people graduating from college and university is jobs. One of the things I’d like to do is work with colleges and universities, and labour, and business, is to see if we can provide more internships or placement opportunities. Not necessarily as part of a course that a student is taking, but after they graduate to help us have a more systematic way of exposing people to work options. My worry is that we have a labour market that needs a certain set of skills, and we have people graduating from college and university without that set of skills. There are so many options, and young people don’t necessarily know about those when they’re going through school. If you get a job when you graduate, the debt isn’t such a big issue; if you can’t get a job, then it is.
Q: Tell us about your campaign experience.
A: It’s been great. I’ve spent the last four days travelling, so I was in Kenora, Thunder Bay, London, Kitchener-Waterloo…. It’s a great experience. Now I have travelled a lot as a minister. I made it my business to travel around the province and meet people where they are.
Q: Have there been any memorable moments?
A: The memorable moment for me is grasping the size of the province. So, when I fly on Bearskin Airlines from Thunder Bay to Kenora, and you see the amount of water and the bush, and you realize it takes longer to get from Toronto to Kenora than from Kenora to Saskatchewan. It really is part of what defines us.
Q: If you are elected as premier, you will be the first female. What does that mean to you?
A: Having been somebody since I entered school pretty much believing that there is a two-tiered mentality in Canada and the Western world; women have had to fight for recognition…. I don’t think that’s the case now, but we’re not on an equal playing field.
Q: Do you think that you will bring a “female voice,” so to speak, into politics?
A: I want to be selected on my merits. I have never felt like as a politician, that I represent one group, but the fact is that women — and this will sound like a generalization — are socialized differently. We tend to have a different experience of the world, because of how we’re raised and how the world treats us. I was privileged to chair women’s caucus, and it was women’s caucus that raised anti-poverty to the larger caucus. I can honestly say that anti-poverty would not exist if it were not for women’s caucus convincing that this mattered, that this is something that matters to voters and to the health of the province. My hope would be, as premier, that I would bring that.
Q: What else do you think you bring to the table?
A: I’m enthusiastic, I’m curious and I love people, and I’m a really honest person. It’s something I really struggle to hold on to, and I think it’s something people really want. I think I bring that, and that can be my downfall. Who knows? But I think if I succeed, it will be in part because of that.