Wynne needs 'free hand' to shape cabinet, Duncan says

Kathleen Wynne is taking steps to mend fences within her party, as she prepares to take on the full-time job of leading the Ontario government.
The premier-designate spoke to media ahead of her first caucus meeting. 10:50

Kathleen Wynne is taking steps to mend fences within her party, as she prepares to take on the full-time job of leading the Ontario government.

Wynne told reporters Tuesday that she had called a caucus meeting as quickly as she could following her victory at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention on the weekend.

"We are one government, we are one team and that’s one of the reasons that I wanted to have a caucus meeting as quickly as possible, because I don’t think we should allow any potential rifts to widen," Wynne said.

The incoming premier was optimistic that she would not have trouble uniting the caucus, despite the fact that 25 Liberal MPPs backed Sandra Pupatello, the runner-up in the leadership campaign.

Wynne said it is her hope that both Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy, who also ran for the leadership job, will stay involved with "our movement forward as a party and as a government."

The incoming premier will also have to turn her attention to the status of the cabinet, which Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Wynne needs to be able to shape to her preference to fit the challenges the government is facing.

Duncan said he will not be accepting a cabinet position in the Wynne-led government.

"I think she needs a free hand and hopefully people like me leaving will allow younger and newer people to come into cabinet, allow her to deal with the challenges that she needs to deal with more effectively," said Duncan, when speaking with reporters on Tuesday

"Hopefully this will give her the opportunity to work with those groups — teachers are a good example — of where, frankly, we would all like to do better."

Wynne has not indicated what plans she has for her cabinet, though it is expected that three of her fellow leadership contenders — Eric Hoskins, Glen Murray and Charles Sousa — will remain as cabinet ministers.

All three Toronto-area MPPs threw their support to Wynne when they decided to drop out of the leadership contest.

Many meetings

When speaking with reporters before her first caucus meeting as Liberal leader, Wynne confirmed she had met with Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and is in the midst of setting up a meeting with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

The premier-to-be has also spoken with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, with Wynne telling reporters that the two had "a very nice exchange" and made plans to talk again soon.

"We agreed that we wanted to get together, and Mayor Ford asked me if I wanted him to come up here, or if I wanted to come to city hall. I said: 'Either way for me,'" said Wynne.

It was also confirmed on Tuesday that Wynne had met with Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federations — one of the unions unhappy with the actions of the previous administration.

After the meeting Coran said in a statement, "Today's meeting with incoming Premier Kathleen Wynne lasted roughly 80 minutes. The meeting was productive and will lead to OSSTF/FEESO engaging in future discussions."

Incoming Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty pose for media after a meeting at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government recently imposed contacts on teachers, using controversial legislation that also allowed it to quash future strikes.

The legislation was subsequently repealed, but that gesture did little to placate teachers and their supporters.

Wynne recently told CBC Radio's Metro Morning she will do what she can to repair the fractured relationship with teachers.

"We've got to work this out and I am going to be a willing partner in getting us back on track," she said during an interview on Monday.

However, Wynne also told Metro Morning she will not re-open the imposed contracts, saying the province can't afford to spend more.

Education Minister Laurel Broten, who has been in charge of the education file for the past 15 months, was asked by reporters Tuesday if she wanted to continue in her cabinet post.

"I serve at the desire of the premier and I’ve enjoyed every job that I have had in government," she said.

"I will look forward to the adventures ahead and would be happy to undertake any role that our incoming premier would ask me to undertake."

With files from The Canadian Press and a report from the CBC's Mike Crawley