Robert Fisher: Wynne's whirlwind week
Ontario's next premier starts strong, but big battles are looming
By Robert Fisher, CBC News
Posted: Feb 4, 2013 7:56 AM ET
Last Updated: Feb 4, 2013 12:09 PM ET
“She listens and she works very hard.”
Those are the words of a former provincial cabinet minister when I asked him to describe Kathleen Wynne.
And by anyone’s estimation, Wynne had quite a first week in her new job as Liberal leader and soon-to-be premier.
She promised during the leadership campaign and again at the party’s convention at Maple Leaf Gardens that if she won she would “hit the ground running.” So far, the 59-year-old grandmother and one-time competitive runner has kept her word.
She has maintained a dizzying pace since winning the job some said she would never have. So far, she's proven the naysayers wrong and some who were not on board during her campaign are starting to appreciate the qualities she brings to the job and her determination to meet them head-on.
In her first week, Wynne has pledged to:
- End the rancour and viciousness at Queen’s Park.
- Make transit a priority while acknowledging any improvements won’t come cheap and will have to be paid for by taxpayers, possibly through unpopular road tolls.
- Move forward with implementing a social assistance review report that’s been gathering dust under outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty since it was made public.
- Proceed with so-called green energy initiatives while “rethinking” the location of future wind turbines.
- Bring about peace in her time with Ontario's teachers.
On the teachers file alone Wynne has already moved the yardsticks, meeting with the heads of the teacher federations who said the talks had been the most positive in a year.
But there is more work to do before the teachers situation is solved and Wynne is keenly aware of what’s at stake.
Even during a private telephone chat, former Conservative premier Bill Davis offered his congratulations on her win and then proceeded to make it, in the words of an insider, “very clear” to Wynne that she must resolve the teacher problem.Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne will move forward with implementing a social assistance review report that's been gathering dust under Dalton McGuinty. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)
Wynne’s a good listener and while she took the advice to heart, it was already in her head.
She’s still privately angered by the Liberal loss in last fall’s Kitchener-Waterloo byelection.
The Liberals finished third behind the NDP and the Conservatives in that race, mainly because teachers said goodbye to the Liberals after McGuinty uncharacteristically threw the first punch at them by demanding wage restraint. Wynne’s not backing away from that restraint but has told the teacher federations there has to be a better way to resolve their concerns.
And many people in the party, even those who backed other leadership candidates, say Wynne is best-equipped to deal with teachers, many of whom worked on her leadership campaign.
The teachers issue aside, Wynne’s busy first week included her other priority: finding some common ground with the Opposition to keep the legislature running and the campaign buses in the garage, for now.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who’s been in election mode for months, will be difficult to bring onside. How else can you explain his Saturday night call of congratulations followed by his Sunday morning attack ad on Wynne?
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath will also be no pushover. This is her time of greatest importance at Queen’s Park. She also wants the legislature working better to avoid an election.
Privately, New Democrats are very worried about Wynne, a Liberal who will campaign from the left and govern from the right. They’re also worried she could bleed off NDP votes, clearing the way for Hudak to become premier.
Gas plant issue is flaring up
Horwath’s first move after Wynne’s win was to call for a public inquiry into the McGuinty Liberals spending hundreds of millions of dollars to close two power plants ahead of the 2011 provincial election.
Wynne, showing her fiscal conservative side, said no to spending what could be millions to get to the bottom of the plant fiasco. That may have been her first misstep.
Horwath’s idea has merit. The inquiry would get the issue out of the legislature where it spawned the “rancor and viciousness” that ultimately forced McGuinty out.
The inquiry would have shown a willingness in Wynne to get to the bottom of something that may yet play a role in what happens to her, and her party, in an election.Ontario Energy Minister Chris Bentley is on his way out but the gas plant issue continues to flare up for Kathleen Wynne's Liberals. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
So when the legislature resumes, McGuinty will be gone along with his embattled Energy Minister Chris Bentley. But the issue will still be very much alive.
Expect Wynne to be on her feet taking a lot of questions — questions she’s already faced on a daily, sometimes hourly basis — from reporters since she won the leadership.
Wynne even took an hour of questions from people across the province during an appearance on the CBC Radio's Ontario Today and said she’s willing to do it on a regular, perhaps monthly, basis. How refreshing. A premier prepared to take questions directly from Ontarians, not just the party faithful.
So far she has held up well. Even her critics privately, and in some cases grudgingly, admit she has deftly handed the political dance between the McGuinty record and setting her own tone for however long she’s around.
Wynne is unscripted and spontaneous. She is not the “Teleprompter premier” McGuinty became in his time at the top. But that comes with risks.
So far Wynne seems prepared to take those risks and understands she must take them if she is to not only make history as Ontario’s first female premier, but to avoid becoming history herself.
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