Name: Gerard Kennedy
Ridings: Formerly York South and Parkdale-High Park
Years as MPP: 10 (May 23, 1996 – May 23, 2006, when he resigned to run for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party. He lost to Stephane Dion.)
Years as MP: Two years, six months (Oct. 14, 2008-May 2, 2011)
Former cabinet positions: minister of education
Bio: Born in The Pas, Man.; attended Trent University and the University of Alberta; married to Jeanette Arsenault-Kennedy with two children, daughter Theria, 14 and son Jean Julien, 10.
Platform: A fair deal for teachers, creating an ombudsman for health care, incentives for youth employment and holding the Liberal leader to account
On Toronto/GTA: “The federal government has been abysmal in its support for Toronto … The old days when people could just blame Toronto have got to be over. We’re behind in transportation and … medium-sized companies that have some of those good jobs that we’re missing.”
Hobbies/interests: hockey, drawing cartoons, reading, playing sports with his kids
Quote: “I think we’re on borrowed time. Prorogation should not be used except for administrative arrangements. Once the leadership [convention] is done, I think we need to bring the House back. We need to get some of that hyper-partisanship and poisonous atmosphere out of there and focus on issues — be answerable and accountable for sure, but in a way that makes things work and delivers what average people need.”
In keeping with his promise to run an open and accountable government if he becomes premier, Gerard Kennedy doesn’t hesitate to weigh in about the ongoing labour strife with Ontario’s teachers.
“I don’t know if it was the premier or the minister — I have sympathy for what they were doing, but I do think they got off track with this,” he told CityNews.
“Something went wrong. That something can be fixed.”
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He says if elected he would renegotiate the contracts the government imposed, and that the teachers — who are taking a 1.5-per-cent pay cut and are each giving up as much as $40,000 in retirement benefits — deserve as much.
But he suggests teachers need to do their part too and calls withholding extracurricular activities an “old tactic” that’s accomplishing nothing except hurting goodwill toward them.
In fact his role as minister of education is his most high-profile in politics to date and one he mentions with pride in interviews.
“I think people know me as the person who … got teachers and not just unions but [also] school boards and parents working together and turned around an education system … so it’s now considered the best in the English-speaking world.”
Kennedy, 52, first ran for office in 1995 — after 13 years heading up Daily Bread Food Bank — and won three terms as an MPP and one as an MP.
The first part of his public life he spent challenging the Mike Harris agenda as health-care and education critic. Then in 2003, Dalton McGuinty handed him the education portfolio, which Kennedy says led to higher standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates and higher post-secondary school enrolment.
It’s those college and university graduates he’s now trying to help.
Kennedy wants to offer incentives to companies who choose to stay in Ontario and create jobs for young people.
“It’s a sad thing to see where someone has cutting-edge this or cutting-edge that but they’re slinging margaritas,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
He’d also like to make the health-care system more effective and efficient and create an ombudsman to help people navigate their way through it.
And Kennedy acknowledges the $11.9-billion deficit is a problem, but has not yet come up with a way to fix it.
First, he needs to convince delegates at this weekend’s Liberal leadership convention in Toronto he’s the one to lead the party, not frontrunners Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello.
“The person to be afraid of is not necessarily the person in front of you, it’s the person behind you,” he said, referring to his 1996 bid to become leader of the Ontario Liberals.
Kennedy was considered the front-runner throughout that campaign and much of the vote, but lost to McGuinty on the fifth ballot. He is in third place in the current battle.
“Probably when I ran before, because I believed so strongly in what I was doing, I ran as more of a crusade,” he said.
“A crusade is great, except maybe some people can’t get on board. So I look forward to building the next direction of the party with some of the other candidates.”
He’s counting on the idiosyncrasies of the leadership voting process to work in his favour this weekend.
But if that fails, Kennedy — who ran a consulting firm before he entered the race — expects he’ll run for office
“I’d like to lead [the party’s renewal,] but at least I’d like to contribute to it in some significant capacity,” he said. “Until the end of this, I probably won’t think of what form that will take.”