Kathleen Wynne laying out plan to campaign from the left in 2018

Premier Kathleen Wynne has sent her clearest signals yet that she will lead the Ontario Liberals into the 2018 election campaign with a speech that spells out her vision of government as a "force for good".

Latest speech sends message — as will Thursday's budget — that she's staying to fight 2018 election

Premier Kathleen Wynne takes questions from the audience in Hamilton after her announcement of a basic income pilot project. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

With a speech spelling out her vision of government as a "force for good," Premier Kathleen Wynne has sent her clearest signs yet that she will lead the Ontario Liberals into the 2018 election campaign.

Wynne was in Hamilton to announce a project to test the effectiveness of a guaranteed basic income, but her message went well beyond that.

She signalled that balancing the budget on Thursday will provide her government the freedom to embark on new initiatives, and she promised "bold" steps in the coming months to help workers, especially those struggling with low wages or in part-time or temporary employment.

"This is no time to retreat,"declared Wynne in a speech to an audience that included union members and anti-poverty activists at a Laborers' International Union of North America conference.

"People are anxious about their jobs and their futures," she said. 

"When I first stood in front of the people of Ontario as premier, I was very clear that I believe government can and must be a force for good. I believe that even more strongly today," she said. "In the days and the weeks and the months to come, our government will reveal more details of our plan." 

Wynne's words ought to put to rest any speculation that she will resign before the election, according to two of her most ardent supporters in the Liberal caucus. 

"She is not going anywhere," said Deputy Premier Deb Matthews in an interview Monday. "She is definitely excited about the next year, excited about the next campaign. This is really an opportunity to do what she and many of us went into politics to do."

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews insists Kathleen Wynne is staying on as Ontario Liberal leader. 'She is definitely excited about the next year, excited about the next campaign,' Matthews said. (Canadian Press)

To those who think Wynne will quit, the speech says, "Set that notion aside," said longtime Hamilton-area MPP Ted McMeekin. "We have a vision, she wants to be part of that, I want her to be part of that." 

McMeekin said the budget will be "a new foundational launching post not just for the premier but for our party as well." 

'Build a fair society'

The speech reveals how the Liberals intend to campaign from the left. Although she offered no specifics, Wynne laid out the general thrust of her three-part plan to "build and preserve a fair society."

Here are three quotes that paint in broad strokes where the premier and her government want to go:

  • "We must do more than simply protect people's wages and their ability to earn a good living. We must work to create a fair economy that provides opportunity and security for everyone."
  • "Building a fair future for Ontario workers."
  • "A far-reaching focus on education, to give everyone in Ontario a fair start."

You will notice the repeated use of the word "fair." Wynne said fair, fairly or fairness 14 times in her five-page speech. The word is also prominent in what the government calls its "Fair Housing Plan" and "Fair Hydro Plan."  

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath dismisses Kathleen Wynne as 'more interested in her own political well-being than in looking at what's happening to real Ontarians.' (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Wynne signalled clearly in her speech that appealing to workers will be a key thrust of her re-election campaign. Here's a revealing passage: 

"We'll be focused on providing help in areas where employers have withdrawn from their traditional role. We'll be looking at the challenges faced by those who are supporting a family and at the same time working at a minimum-wage job. At a time when companies are choosing to create more part-time and contract jobs, we'll be working to ensure those workers are treated fairly. And we'll be exploring how we can further support workers in an era where jobs don't last a lifetime anymore, and sometimes fail to deliver even basic benefits."

This comes as Wynne's government considers significant changes to the rules governing workplaces, such as paid sick days and vacation provisions.

Wynne 'has done enough damage'

NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who has promised a $15 minimum wage and a universal pharmacare program, is unimpressed by Wynne's "force for good" comment and her left-leaning signals.

"The government in this province has been a force for bad for 14 years," Horwath told reporters Monday. "This premier has done enough damage and it's time for a big change." 

Horwath blames the Liberals for the very problems Wynne is now pledging to solve.

"This Liberal government has created a situation where folks are worried about their future," Horwath said, dismissing Wynne as "a premier frankly who's been more interested in her own political well-being, and in feathering the nests of her friends and her buddies in high places, than in looking at what's happening to real Ontarians."  

To those who might be tempted by Wynne's politically progressive talk, Horwath pointed to the sale of Hydro One and cuts in the health-care system and said, "Buyer beware."


Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.


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