The first Ontario premier in a generation to hail from Toronto, Kathleen Wynne is also one of the most urbane. She has taken the lead on plans to expand the city's transit system, stopped the provincial push for a waterfront casino and announced plans to seek a national strategy on affordable housing. While the administration of Mayor Rob Ford concerns itself with meat-and-potatoes fiscal matters, Ms. Wynne has emerged as a city-builder.
The latest sign of the Premier's urban focus came this week, when her Liberals tapped Mitzie Hunter to carry their standard in an upcoming by-election. Ms. Hunter, CEO of the non-partisan urban advocacy group CivicAction, will run in the Scarborough-Guildwood riding left vacant by former cabinet minister Margarett Best.
"I really believe that Kathleen Wynne has put forward the issues that are really important, and I certainly care about those issues: employment opportunities, housing, transportation," she told The Globe and Mail.
The transit file, in particular, has seen a near role-reversal between the province and the city. While city councillors have dithered, changing their minds on pre-approved expansion plans, Ms. Wynne is pushing hard for dedicated revenue to fund new subways, commuter trains and light rail lines in the Toronto area.
CivicAction, meanwhile, has run a campaign urging politicians of all stripes to declare their support for transit expansion. If she wins election, Ms. Hunter is certain to become a key ally for the Premier on the issue.
"Transportation is something that is really important to residents who need to get to work and also get home and to the places they need to go," she said. "It's an issue that I've been working on and have a lot to offer, and I'll certainly be part of the team and offering my support on behalf of the residents at Scarborough-Guildwood."
Ken Greenberg, a prominent architect and planning consultant, credits Ms. Wynne with seeing the "big picture" on the city's needs, pointing not only to transit but to waterfront development and a recently unveiled plan to place a park and trail at Ontario Place.
"Kathleen Wynne is demonstrating a big-picture understanding of urban issues, like the progress that is being made on the waterfront and how all of the pieces and parts contributed by all levels of government and the private sector are fusing to produce tangible outcomes that we are starting to see," he said. "This is a new and refreshing departure from the usual myopic focus on one project at a time."
CivicAction chair John Tory said the province's concern for urban matters is a reflection of how badly they have been neglected, pointing to the TTC's aging subway signal system, whose malfunction Tuesday slowed the morning commute to a crawl.
"Frankly, I think we've ignored a lot of [civic issues] for some time, including investment in infrastructure," he said. "There's an acute focus on those issues because we've reached a stage where we have to address them."
Mr. Tory said it was an opportune moment for Ms. Hunter to jump into the fray. "It's a good time for her to be in public life to take those issues to another level," he said.
Ms. Hunter isn't the only municipally savvy politician seeking to join Ms. Wynne's caucus. Peter Milczyn, a 19-year veteran of city council, will carry the Liberal standard in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore by-election.
"The Premier's movement and priority on things like transit, on rural roads and bridges, on northern highways, on making our communities more liveable, is obviously attracting a pretty high quality group of candidates," said Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Glen Murray.
Voters in Scarborough-Guildwood, Etobicoke-Lakeshore and three other ridings head to the polls Aug. 1.