Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's other side

It turns out there are actually two Kathleen Wynnes. There's the minority premier promising to be "new and different" and "open and transparent." And there's the majority premier who appears to have all but wiped those four words from her political vocabulary.

Now that she has a majority government, Ontario is seeing a different Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne receives applause before delivering remarks during an Economic Club of Canada luncheon in Toronto on Dec. 15. (Canadian Press)

It turns out there are actually two Kathleen Wynnes.

There's the minority premier promising to be "new and different" and "open and transparent.”

And there's the majority premier who appears to have all but wiped those four words from her political vocabulary. Why?

Because she can, say some Liberals privately, who say as well Wynne's majority means she no longer, in their words, "has to play nice" with the opposition to get things done.

Wynne's new approach to governing has manifested itself in a number of ways, not the least of which was her decision to uninvite — some say "dismiss" — her loyal Liberal candidate from the June general election in Sudbury.

Andrew Olivier apparently just wasn't good enough for a provincial byelection to be held in the riding early in the new year.

What galls a lot of Sudbury Liberals — and even some at Queen's Park — is that as Olivier was preparing to run, Wynne was on the telephone convincing NDP MP Glenn Thibeault to be her candidate, after he made it known he was disenchanted with federal party leader Tom Mulcair.

The timing of his departure from Parliament Hill allows Thibeault to collect his full MP's pension. If elected, he'll take a pay cut and receive no pension.

But while all sides deny there's been any deal, my political radar tells me that Thibeault is headed for Wynne's cabinet, which may well be the wink and nudge that the Liberals will campaign on in a riding that is used to being represented by a cabinet minister.

Rick Bartolucci held the riding for almost two decades, retiring just before the June election.

A Liberal byelection win would strip NDP Leader Andrea Horwath of her bragging rights over having "stolen" the riding in June and then essentially finding it up for grabs again when MPP Joe Cimino stepped down after just five months.

Wynne says Thibeault would bring what she calls "stable" representation to the riding, which implies that Cimino did not.

And that comment in and of itself marks a change from the always compassionate Wynne who seems to have let politics cloud her thinking — forgetting that the one-time city councillor quit provincial politics to deal with a "serious family" matter and chose to give up a $58,000 severance that he was entitled to receive under the current rules for MPPs.

I have covered provincial politics in this province since the 1980s. I have reported on eight premiers: Bill Davis, Frank Miller, David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, Dalton McGuinty and now Wynne.

But I have been struck by just how quickly Wynne has gone from "new and different" to "same old, same old" — reminding me and others of the short-lived Peterson era — another Liberal administration that promised to "earn the trust of Ontarians every single day," and then quickly forgot that.

It's a time that is well-chronicled in the book Not Without Cause — the rise and fall of David Peterson — a Liberal premier sent packing by an electorate that quickly tired of him and his approach to governing.

Wynne's approach — often echoed by her cabinet ministers — is now more of: we won, you didn't. 

And as a result, she wants legislation passed quickly, limiting debate, refusing to allow all-party committees to travel outside of Queen's Park.

But beyond that, what is and is not acceptable has changed in Wynne and two recent examples underscore the new tone.

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa recently said in the House during a morning question period that Horwath was incapable of reading the Liberal election platform because it is "more than the nine pages" she produced for the June election.

In the past, Wynne has been clear that that kind of putdown was unacceptable. In fact, she led a group of women cabinet ministers who spoke to then-premier Dalton McGuinty asking him to intervene to stop the patronizing attitude toward Horwath, then the newly-elected NDP leader.

McGuinty did intervene and things changed. Wynne successfully challenged the old boys club at Queen's Park. But she now seems to support it.

Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli dismissed Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk's concerns about the government's smart meters program saying "the electricity system is very complex ... difficult to understand."

His tone was called "sexist and patronizing" by the opposition, directed as it was at a woman, who for a decade held senior positions with Manitoba Hydro.

But Wynne offered only mild support for Lysyk, "welcoming" her annual report and when confronted with demands for Chiarelli's resignation, dismissed the calls, turning at one point during a particularly heated exchange with Horwath to face her caucus and mouth the words "for God's sake."

In the past, people close to Wynne have often quietly informed reporters, including me, when the premier had been "displeased" with a cabinet minister. But there have been no calls about either Sousa and his comments about Horwath or about Chiarelli's public attitude toward the auditor general.

Again, it's the case of the two Kathleen Wynnes.

The premier is clearly popular right now, having come out of the June election with a lot of political capital. But that could all change.

It is one thing for the Opposition to call her "arrogant." It'll be quite another matter if that's picked up by voters.

If the government continues to wear the McGuinty gas plant scandal and its own questionable spending of taxpayers' money and if the Opposition gets its act together, 2018 may not be the slam dunk many Liberals are privately expecting.

About the Author

Robert Fisher

Provincial Affairs Specialist

A commentator with decades of experience covering Queen's Park, Robert Fisher writes about politics for He is an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience in public and private radio and television.


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