Kathleen Wynne is breaking with predecessor Dalton McGuinty’s centralized method of governing, vowing to use a collegial style to implement her ambitious agenda.
Ontario’s premier-designate has outlined a slew of big-ticket policies, including a comprehensive transit-building plan, an overhaul of the province’s welfare system and reform to the federal equalization program. In a sit-down interview with The Globe and Mail, she added one more to the list: a national affordable housing strategy.
Ms. Wynne, who on Thursday received the official nod to form government, signaled that she would do politics differently than Mr. McGuinty, using more input from her caucus and the opposition to make difficult decisions.
“We’re different people, we have different styles and it’s a different time,” she said.
She will have to use her best negotiating skills to reach consensus between the premiers and the federal government on a long-term plan for providing low-cost housing. Ottawa has a $1.9-billion fund for such programs, but it’s running out.
“The money that is in the system right now will expire in 2014. I think that we need to understand what’s going to come after,” she said. “I did have an initial conversation with [federal Human Resources Minister Diane] Finley about that, but it’s something that I would want to raise at the table.”
Ms. Wynne also wants to do away with a cap on federal equalization growth. Under the cap, money available to the provinces can rise only at the rate of the country’s GDP. Critics argue the system is faulty because it doesn’t adequately respond to increases in inequality between the provinces.
Calculations by the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation, a Toronto think tank, show all six provinces receiving equalization payments this year have lost money as a result. Ontario has been hardest hit, missing out on $1.1-billion.
On the local front, the premier-designate moved this week to implement a report on the social assistance system – which recommended raising welfare rates – and pledged to find new sources of money to expand the public transit network.
But before she makes strides on these fronts, Ms. Wynne must deal with the day-to-day politics of a minority parliament.
She has put in long hours this week – on Monday, she was on the go from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. – meeting with everyone from teachers’ unions to opposition leaders to her caucus. She is working out of the premier’s second office, adjacent to Queen’s Park in the Whitney Block.
Her staff is holding talks with New Democrats over the third-place party’s budget requests, including changes to the tax system that would squeeze more money out of corporations.
Ms. Wynne is also sitting down one-on-one with each of her MPPs to solicit their advice. And it is there that she draws a contrast with the man she is replacing: When Mr. McGuinty came to power in 2003, he led a largely rookie caucus. Ms. Wynne, by contrast, pointed out that she has worked with many of these MPPs since that time.
In some ways, her conciliatory style, which involves a lot of discussion, seems at odds with the rough-and-tumble political arena. How is it possible to maintain a collaborative approach in such a setting? Ms. Wynne paused.
“I don’t really know the answer to that,” she said, adding later: “It’s keeping my eye on the ball. It’s being clear where I want to go and taking the people with me who want to come. And if there’s going to be negativity, of course we have to answer it. But the way we answer it is with our story and our narrative about what we believe in.”
Ms. Wynne will take office as Ontario premier on Monday, Feb. 11, and recall the legislature eight days later.
Ms. Wynne and Mr. McGuinty walked up to the lieutenant-governor’s suite at Queen’s Park Thursday morning. They met for 15 minutes, during which Mr. McGuinty formally notified Lieutenant-Governor David Onley of his resignation and Mr. Onley ceremonially asked Ms. Wynne to form a government.
Shortly afterward, Mr. Onley emerged from the meeting to introduce Ms. Wynne as premier-designate.
“It is a great honour and pleasure to be here. I am just here to accept this honour,” she said. “I had the opportunity this morning to thank the premier for everything that he has done for the province for the last nine years.”
Ms. Wynne said she would have her cabinet sworn in Feb. 11 as well, but has not yet tipped her hand on who she will name as ministers.