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Wynne joins leadership race

November 2, 2012 - News

Ontario’s Liberal leadership race could well make history by giving the province its first woman premier.
A strong contender, Kathleen Wynne, 59, is set Monday to join the contest to replace Dalton McGuinty, who announced Oct. 15 he is retiring from politics.
Among those who have yet to decide on their leadership bid are Health Minister Deb Matthews and former MPP and cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello, which observers agree would make three strong women candidates joining the race. The deadline for would-be leaders is Nov. 23.
If a woman wins the Liberal leadership in Ontario, that would make it five of the 10 provinces led by a female.
“She’s exactly the kind of leader we need right now . . . she’s not a politician who does a lot of bombast. She doesn’t brag a lot about how great she is but she has confidence in her own ability,” said Sheila Ward, who served with Wynne on the Toronto District School Board and who was the board chair when Wynne was education minister.
Wynne was first elected MPP Don Valley West in 2003 and three years later joined. Since then has held many high profile and varied posts, including minister of education, transportation and more recently municipal affairs and housing and minister of aboriginal affairs.
“I think she is bright, she has lots of ideas, she energetic but I’m not sure how this played across the province though,” said a veteran civil servant, who worked with Wynne.
Wynne is the first candidate to quit cabinet — as per McGuinty’s edict — to seek the leadership.
Among other things, her name has also been raised as a possible candidate for the Toronto mayor’s job.
Ontario’s first openly lesbian MPP, Wynne made a name for herself when she was a trustee of the Toronto District School Board and openly opposed the then Harris and Eves governments cuts to education. Even so, she also became known as a person who could work with trustees of all political stripes.
“To my mind she is what the sitting provincial government needs right now. She is a real respectful leader and a mediator,” said her former trustee colleague Shelley Carroll, now a Toronto City councillor.
In her first portfolio, education (2006-10), Wynne led the government’s efforts to reduce class sizes in the primary grades, to implement full-day kindergarten and to provide more opportunities for high school students to graduate.
“I believe she is astute, she is bright, she is articulate. She can find common areas between differences. I believe she has the ability to find those and engage people. I think she exhibits those qualities as a leader but also as a person,” Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, said.
One of the knocks against Wynne might be that she is too close to the teacher unions, especially the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which actively campaigned for her in the past two provincial elections.
Matthews described her as a committed cabinet minister and MPP.
“She is a very committed woman. I have worked with her on many different issues and she brings her passions and her values to the job every day. She takes very strong position on making life better for people and making government work better,” Matthews said.
Even though teachers were still speaking with the government back when Wynne was education minister, observers believe she will be the victim in the public forum of the war of words between teachers and McGuinty government, which tried unsuccessfully to impose a collective agreement as part of its spending cuts.
Among her successes was knocking off then Progressive Conservative leader John Tory in 2007 when he decided to leave the safe Tory riding in Orangeville and run against Wynne in Don Valley West. It was the beginning of the end for Tory’s leadership.
Tory bears no grudge towards his former opponent.
“She is smart, tough and capable, and I like her,” Tory told the Star, adding that her close relationship with teacher unions may be just what the doctor ordered in order to heal the serious rift between the Liberal government and teachers across the province.
Minister of Children and Youth Services Eric Hoskins, who is also toying with the idea of running for McGuinty’s job, had nothing but high praise for Wynne, a mother of three who came out when she was 37.
“Her voice is not just welcome but is sought out in cabinet, in part because she is very good at expressing progressive ways of looking at things,” Hoskins told the Star.
“I have nothing but respect for her and her very sound advice. She will be missed in cabinet, that’s for sure,” he said.
Pupatello, now director of business development and global markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, said: “She is a great girl. I have lot of respect for her, always have.”
Others sitting in the wings thinking about running are former Liberal MP and MPP Gerard Kennedy, and Glen Murray, minister of training, colleges and universities.
NDP critic MPP Gilles Bisson said Wynne and others in cabinet – both current and of recent past — will find it hard to shake the ghosts of governments past.
“I think the problem that most of them are going to have is how do they run away from the (Liberal government’s controversial) legacy . . . it’s going to be hard for her to distance herself from the decisions she made at the cabinet table. That’s going to be her biggest problem,” Bisson said.
— Torstar News Service

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