With just days to go before the Ontario election, Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne made a move she is hoping will change her party’s fate — and she finally realized it would have to be momentous.
At a media event on Saturday morning, she conceded the Liberals would not win the election on June 7 and said her focus would now be on preventing an NDP or Progressive Conservative majority.
The premier sat down with CityNews political specialist Cynthia Mulligan for a wide-ranging interview about why she stayed in power, decisions that have hurt her and her biggest regret.
CityNews: Kathleen Wynne, you made one heck of an announcement this morning that I don’t think anyone was expecting. That’s unprecedented.
Wynne: Yeah, I know that. What I was hearing from candidates and from people was that they want change. They want a new government, and they are worried. They’re worried about a majority NDP or a majority Conservative government. And so what I said this morning was the way to avoid that is to vote for Liberals, who will be that check on a majority … because I know that I’m not going to be the premier and I know that we’re not going to form government. I just think it’s important for the province that we don’t give a blank cheque to the NDP or to Doug Ford.
CityNews Why now? And were you pushed out by your own party?
Wynne: No, really not. In fact there were lots of tears today. What we saw was a coming together of all the numbers.
CityNews: If it’s not going to be you as the next premier, who should the next premier be?
Wynne: The people of the province will decide that. I’m not in any way trying to direct that. I’m not trying to choose. People are going to sort that out. Riding by riding, that will sort itself out.
CityNews: If you win in your riding of Don Valley West, will you stay on as the local MPP?
Wynne: I’m going to stay on. I can’t predict the future.
CityNews: So, you think if you’re out of the picture, more people will vote Liberal?
Wynne: I said in the debate, I said I’m sorry that more people don’t like me. I acknowledge that. I acknowledge that for whatever reason it makes it harder for people to vote Liberal because I’m the leader.
CityNews: That’s got to be soul-crushing.
Wynne: It’s hard.
CityNews: Why are you unpopular? Is it because you’re a woman? Is it because you’re an older woman? Is it because you’re gay?
Wynne: Well, I think all of those things may have something to do with it … But you know I’ve never used that as an excuse in any way, and I never would.
But there are other things at play. There are some tough decisions that I made that a lot of people didn’t like, (such as privatizing) Hydro One.
CityNews: Is that the one that turned people against you?
Wynne: It may be. It may be the lightning-rod one. I had said we were going to leverage assets (to build transit, roads and bridges). I had said that. But I hadn’t been able to say, “Yeah, and this is what we’re going to do with Hydro One.”
But I think there’s more to it than that. I think it’s also our government has been in office for a long time.
CityNews: Let’s face it — There’s a lot of Liberal baggage that you’ve been carrying that (former premier) Dalton McGuinty started.
Wynne: There were lots of issues. I’m proud of this government. I’ve been part of this government since day 1. I’m proud of what we’ve done. But it’s a long time, and so that may be the number 1 going-in challenge.
CityNews: What is next for Kathleen Wynne?
Wynne: Oh, I just got to get to June 7th. I have to get to June 7th.
CityNews: After that, do you think you’re going to feel a little lost?
Wynne: This is the best job in the world. I’m blessed to have had it. There are only 25 people who have had this job. I feel so privileged. And honestly … every time I walk into Queen’s Park, I feel so privileged to work there, to have the honour and the responsibility to make the decisions that are going to affect people’s lives … There’s nothing more profound than that.
It is constant and it is intense and so whatever happens after June 7th, there’s going to be a bit of a “Whoa, this is a big change.”
CityNews: Do you look back on the last four years and think of things that you wish you had done differently or better?
Wynne: I wish I could have figured out how to make it clearer to people that I do care, that I want their lives to be better — because I think part of the antipathy, part of the reason that people don’t like me — those who don’t like me — is that they don’t know that I actually do care about them. They think that somehow I set myself apart from them, that I’m somehow aloof or rich or different than they are.
CityNews: Who do you want to see as next Liberal leader?
Wynne: I’m not going to weigh in to that.
CityNews: Was there a moment a year, year and a half ago when maybe you should have bowed out?
Wynne: I don’t know the answer to that. We really believed … that there was a good chance that we would be able to make the case to the people of Ontario.
The other reason I stayed is that I had the support of my colleagues. We really believed we could turn this around, and that’s why I stayed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.