Ontario must overcome the "threat" of a toxic political environment to tackle the daunting problems facing the province, Premier Kathleen Wynne said.
In a speech to a Liberal fundraising dinner in downtown Toronto Wednesday, Ms. Wynne exhorted her party to rally behind her in building transit, creating jobs and improving the education system. And the best way to tackle these files, she said, is with a collaborative approach.
"We have to smile, folks. We have to listen. Also, we have to be positive. We have to be gracious … even when we're blunt about our opinions and honest in our assessment of the situation," she said. "We do not have to be vicious or mean or willfully partisan. Because politics is not a game. It's about our lives."
If politicians become too absorbed in daily battles and partisan sniping, or if they shy away from making hard decisions, people will become disenchanted with politics and no progress will be made, she warned.
"I honestly worry that if we, all of us, allow politics to become solely about gamesmanship or campaign battles, if we perpetually avoid tough questions or refuse to sit down with those with whom we may disagree, if we make safe choices and refuse to acknowledge mistakes, if we assume that the public is too polarized or the margin of victory is too slim to make bold action worthwhile and if we refuse to acknowledge that other opinions might be valid, or might be helpful, then the public will tune us out. And rightly so," she said.
Instead, Ms. Wynne said, the government must make difficult decisions, such bringing in new revenue streams – likely to include taxes and tolls – to pay for the expansion of rapid transit in Toronto's suburbs.
She also vowed to tackle the need for skills training to match unemployed workers with unfilled jobs, and to make changes to education.
"We have to focus on fostering [childrens'] creativity from the start; teaching them to work in teams; teaching them to value and that we value interpersonal skills. So I'm going to ask whether we're really teaching math and science in the best way possible," she said.
She reiterated one of the central contentions of her premiership: that it is possible for the government to be fiscally responsible while undertaking her ambitious "fair society" package of social legislation.
Ms. Wynne has taken a more collegial tone than her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, and she said that, so far, this has paid off. Poking fun at herself, she joked that the Queen's Park press gallery has a drinking game that involves taking a sip every time she uses the term "conversation."
"Do you all have a glass of something?" she said. "Yes, I am Kathleen Wynne and I have had a lot of conversations since I've been Premier. And we are going to continue to do that. We're going to continue to talk to each other. Because those conversations work. Those conversations are not just a way to keep the press corps entertained, and they are not some superficial political branding exercise."
She rhymed off several successful negotiations her government has undertaken since she was sworn in last month, including persuading secondary-school teachers to end a work-to-rule and return to extracurricular activities, and six transitional funding deals with racetracks. She also pointed to her use of other parties' ideas in the Throne Speech as key to obtaining New Democrat support for the speech.