Can Kathleen Wynne bring change to Ontario?

Ontario's premier-designate, Kathleen Wynne, wants to see some change at Queen's Park. It now is up to her to see if she can build on her historic win at the leadership convention to make that change happen.
Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne is coming off a historic win at the recent Ontario Liberal leadership convention. She wants to see change at Queen's Park, but it remains to be seen if she will be able to make that change happen. (John Rieti/CBC)

Kathleen Wynne made history in Toronto becoming Ontario's first female premier and the country's first openly gay premier.

Now her task is to ensure she does not become history.

Her start during an appearance yesterday at her first news conference as the premier-designate set a new tone! Will it continue?

Some of that is up to PC leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath. But her party has a role to play in that, too.

Coming together after this convention should not prove to be a problem for the Ontario Liberals.

Leadership rival Charles Sousa's decision to throw his support to Wynne and not Sandra Pupatello at the convention was an important signal that things in the party and, more importantly, Ontario politics had to change.

When Wynne spoke to the media on Sunday, she called for an end to "the rancor and viciousness" she has seen in the legislature and she expressed a desire for debate to take place in a less poisonous atmosphere.

In my years of watching Ontario politics I cannot remember a time when things were so bitter and so divided.

Wynne now has a chance to change that and what she said during the Liberal leadership race, at the convention itself and at her first news conference tend to support the view that she wants and may well get it.

All of that said, Wynne is beginning the "delicate dance" as leader, in not running away from the Dalton McGuinty-led government past of which she was a major player and, setting her own course as premier.

And as she promised she is "hitting the ground running."

Kathleen Wynne (left) and Sandra Pupatello (right) entered a weekend convention as the two front-runners in the race to succeed departing Premier Dalton McGuinty. But it was Wynne who pulled ahead on the third ballot to become the premier-designate and claim the leadership job. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

There have been talks with her leadership rivals, the leaders of the opposition, a call to the clerk of legislature to recall MPPs for February 19th, a decision to hold the party's scheduled caucus on Tuesday and the creation of a transition team headed by her talented friend, former MPP and cabinet minister Monique Smith.

And with the quick recall, time is compressed to get to job one: the selection of a new cabinet.

Wynne's leadership rivals — with the exception of Pupatello and Kennedy, who have not committed to running in the next election — will be a part of the new team.

There's already talk that:

  •  Sousa, backed up by his solid business-Bay Street CV, will be Wynne's new finance minister.
  •  Eric Hoskins will be promoted, perhaps to education minister with a mandate to deal with the ongoing teachers dispute.
  • Glen Murray will land in a place to spotlight his ideas for among other things, the transforming the province's troubled manufacturing sector.
  • Harinder Takhar, even with his support of Pupatello, will also be a part of the Wynne administration. Takhar represents an important and growing political demographic that the Liberals need now and into the next provincial election.

There will also be many new faces in the new cabinet including, likely, the party's president, Ottawa Centre MPP and new dad, Yasir Naqvi, as Wynne surely anticipates a long list of veteran resignations.

Then, there's a throne speech and, a budget, the deficit, the teacher issue and, a glimpse inside those heavy briefing books that may yet provide Wynne with some surprises.

So will all that and more change Wynne?

Some things will be different. She is, or will soon be, the premier, not just a minister — though she's promised to be her own agriculture minister for a year and she is no longer just an MPP.

This 59-year-old grandmother, who proved at the convention she can boogie with the best of them, is the person at the top — the person where the buck starts and stops at Queen's Park. She is the person who will determine the fate of her government and party.

In talking privately with Liberals, who will serve with her and who have in the past, the consensus is clear: "What you see is what you get."

One former cabinet minister told me he was always careful about what he said to Wynne. Asked why? He responded because unlike McGuinty, "she always listened."

Ontarians are now in search of the same thing.