Name: Kathleen Wynne
Riding: Don Valley West
Years as MPP: 10 (elected in 2003)
Former cabinet positions: Minister of Education, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
Bio: Former school trustee and small business owner. Married to Jane Rounthwaite. Has three children and two grandchildren.
Platform: Economic challenges “are integrally related to our social justice challenges. We need a strong education system. We need big businesses to come, and we need to support small businesses with assistance with things like pay roll tax, because people need jobs.”
On Toronto/GTA: Investment in TTC through Metrolinx; was transportation minister when Toronto’s Transit City was approved and then cancelled by Mayor Rob Ford. Also helped to oversee the City of Toronto Act and was involved in the gas tax.
Hobbies/interests: Former runner.
In quotes: “I don’t think anyone believes there needs to be an election right now,” Wynne told the Toronto Star.
“If [NDP leader] Andrea [Horwath] is the leader who’s willing to work with us – and I haven’t heard [PC leader] Tim [Hudak] say that he’s willing – then I’m more than open to having that conversation.”
Kathleen Wynne is slightly behind front-runner Sandra Pupatello going in to this weekend’s Liberal leadership convention in Toronto. But that might not be a bad thing.
Gerard Kennedy was in the lead back in 1996, when Dalton McGuinty was crowned the victor on the fifth ballot.
The placement doesn’t bother Wynne, who has racked up high-profile endorsements and earned more in fundraising than Pupatello. She said she plans to keep the momentum going until she’s elected premier at the next provincial election.
“If I don’t win, I’m still an MPP, and I’ll serve my constituents, and I’m ready to serve the premier in whatever capacity he or she requires.
“But that’s plan B,” Wynne said in a telephone interview with CityNews.ca.
During the leadership campaign, Wynne has gained the support of delegates and a slew of high-profile names, including former Liberal leadership candidate Glen Murray.
Murray abandoned his own leadership bid in early January and threw his support behind her. Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, announced his support the same day Wynne locked up John Wilkinson — a former minister who was rumoured to be leaning toward Pupatello.
Wynne also has the support of Health Minister Deb Matthews, Sheila Copps, Michael Bryant and Toronto city councillor Shelley Carroll.
“Wynne’s understanding of municipal issues and what the City of Toronto is facing at this interesting period in its growth is well understood,” Carroll told CityNews.ca.
“Her experience is not just as a resident – it’s in her portfolio,” Carroll said.
As a minister, Wynne helped to oversee the City of Toronto Act and was involved in the gas tax, Carroll said, adding her experience predates Wynne’s appointment as Minister of Municipal Affairs.
“She and I go way back to the Premier [Mike] Harris years. We worked together extensively to save the education system and mitigate the bill side effects of amalgamation…after that, she went off to the province and I went off to the city.”
A better relationship with municipalities will be crucial for the new premier, Carroll said, and may have avoided the difficulties the Liberal government saw with the cancelled gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville.
“Working with communities is the way forward for the Liberal party,” Carroll said.
Wynne said she has worked with city, pointing to the “challenges” of being transportation minister in 2010, when Rob Ford’s October election scrapped the then recently-approved Transit City plan.
“It was a challenge and we got through it.”
However, she stressed that Toronto wasn’t the only municipality on her mind.
Wynne has been making strides to appeal to rural and small town voters, even promising to take on the role of agricultural minister for one year.
“I want people outside of Toronto to understand that I see this as a critical issue,” Wynne said.
“I want to have an impact on the agrifood business and the quality of life in small towns and rural areas in the province.”
Pupatello, a 16-year MPP who left politics before the 2011 provincial election to take a Bay Street job, might just have the edge outside of Toronto. Wynne lives and works in downtown Toronto and is seen as part of the party’s centre-left wing.
Pupatello, who is from Windsor but owns a home in Toronto, is the only leadership candidate from outside the GTA, and is on the party’s centre-right.
It’s a delicate balance for Wynne, who, despite her agriculture pledge, stresses she’s still attuned to urban concerns.
“We need to continue to invest in transit and we’re going to have to have a serious conversation about how to pay for it. Metrolinx will have recommendations in the next six months about the financial tools we need to build transit.”
“The Gardiner and the TTC are municipal concerns and the city has jurisdiction over those issues. We’re investing in the Spadina Subway, the Eglinton Scarborough cross town line, in refurbishing Union Station and in the Air Rail Link,” she said.
Priorities as leader
Wynne’s first priority as premier isn’t urban or rural, she said, it’s reaching out to the Opposition.
“I want to get a cabinet together, a throne speech and a budget that can pass,” Wynne said —standard issues for any premier.
What will be different, she said, is a promise not to introduce any new legislation that would impose collective agreements on government workers.
“There’s good evidence that we don’t need that,” she said, citing the tentative agreement between OPSEU and the government.
“I was at the Cabinet table as we made those decisions but my hope was that we would never need to use that legislation. I’m disappointed that didn’t happen — understanding, of course, that there’s no more money.”
Wynne was minister of education from 2006 to 2010 (she was preceded by Pupatello) and there were no strikes during her term.
“To be fair, it was a different time. There were resources on the table.”
She’s equally diplomatic when it comes to the gas plant controversy that — along with the Ornge air ambulance scandal — led McGuinty to prorogue Parliament and announce his surprise resignation in mid-October.
“All the parties agreed that the placement of those facilities was not right. We should have had a better understanding of community concerns.”
The province needs more energy infrastructure, Wynne said, and going forward, there needs to be a better consultation process in place.
“I want to go to willing hosts,” whether its gas, solar or wind or other infrastructure, like highways, she said.
When it comes to dealing with the federal government, Wynne said she has the experience.
Every ministry she’s headed, barring education, has involved liasing with federal counterparts.
“We need to be sure that Ontario’s getting a fair deal — in funding for affordable housing, in equalization payments — and I’m going to be raising those issues with the federal government.
“It will be my role as premier to articulate those concerns to the federal government and with other premiers across the country. It’s good for the country to have a dialogue.”
The biggest issue facing the province isn’t the urban rural divide or the relationship with the federal government. To echo a famous American president, it’s the economy — but Wynne puts a distinctly Canadian spin on the problem.
“Our economic challenges are integrally related to our social justice challenges. We need a strong education system. We need big businesses to come, and we need to support small businesses with assistance with things like pay roll tax, because people need jobs.
Wynne wants to make it easier for small businesses to access capital, and for foreign capital to reach small businesses.
“It’s the right thing to do, to close the gap between those who have and those who do not, but it also makes good economic sense. “
To that end, Wynne said that under her leadership, the province would continue to look for ways to keep expenses down.
“Particularly in the health ministry, there’s more health care that’s going to be needed and we need to do it in the smartest way possible. Home care is better than acute care.”
Before she can do any of those things, she’ll have to first win the leadership race.
That’s Plan A.