Kathleen Wynne is pledging to repair the governing Liberals' tattered relations with teachers and scrap plans to impose wage freezes on public-sector workers if she becomes the next premier of Ontario.
Ms. Wynne, 59, kicked off her campaign for the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party on Monday evening, becoming the second candidate out of the gate.
She distanced herself from Premier Dalton McGuinty, who has spent much of this year fighting with the province's teachers and doctors, by saying she would not pursue his plans to introduce legislation that would freeze wages for public-sector workers for two years. A legislated freeze for teachers is already in place.
"My hope is we would see more negotiated settlements, and that the imposition of collective agreements wouldn't be necessary," Ms. Wynne told reporters. "It would be moot."
Ms. Wynne, who is perceived to be on the left of the political spectrum, firmly staked out the middle ground during her speech to about 350 supporters at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto, where she was surrounded by her parents, her partner, Jane, and her three children.
"We have to know – in our hearts and in our minds – that the middle ground is the firmest place to stand," Ms. Wynne said. "The party to our right does not have the corner on fiscal responsibility and the party to our left does not have the corner on compassion."
Ms. Wynne has the support of several current and former Liberal caucus members. Some party members think the path to winning re-election is trying to erode the support of the New Democrats and its popular leader, Andrea Horwath, say Liberal insiders. Ms. Wynne is viewed by many of her supporters as the Liberals' best hope of winning back the support of public-sector workers.
"I think Kathleen is in the best possible position to reach out to some of the stakeholders that have supported us in the past, but that are feeling a little disappointed," said Liberal MPP David Zimmer.
Monique Smith, former Liberal House leader who did not seek re-election last year, said Ms. Wynne is the best choice for leader and to succeed Mr. McGuinty as premier.
"She's a consensus builder," Ms. Smith said.
Ms. Wynne, who was first elected in 2003 as the MPP for the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, devoted much of her speech to talking about the importance of restoring the goodwill between the Liberals and the province's secondary and elementary teachers.
"We need to work very hard to rebuild those relationships," she said.
Ms. Wynne, the first openly lesbian politician at Queen's Park, has held several cabinet portfolios during her nine years in office, including transportation and education. She resigned last Friday from the dual positions of municipal affairs and housing and aboriginal affairs to jump into the leadership race.
As co-chair of the Liberal re-election campaign last year, Ms. Wynne could find it difficult to distance herself from scandals swirling around the government over the province's air ambulance service and the decision to pull the plug on two power plants, said a Liberal insider.
Ms. Wynne joins Glen Murray, who stepped down from his cabinet post as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to enter the race on the weekend.
They could be joined by Health Minister Deb Matthews, Children and Youth Services Minister Eric Hoskins and Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa, all of whom are considering bids, along with former cabinet ministers Sandra Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy. The Liberal Party will choose a new leader on the weekend of Jan. 25 to replace Mr. McGuinty, who is retiring after nine years as Premier. Several cabinet ministers have already abandoned the idea of replacing him. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Energy Minister Chris Bentley, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, and Education Minister Laurel Broten have all decided to stay out of the race.