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Politics Ontario premier-designate Wynne reaches out to opposition

Newly elected Liberal Party leader Kathleen Wynne is speaks to media in Toronto, Ont. Saturday, January 26, 2013.

KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Ontario's incoming Premier Kathleen Wynne is hitting the ground running, reaching out to her opposition rivals and holding her first caucus meeting on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Sunday following her victory Saturday evening at the Liberal leadership convention, Ms. Wynne set the tone for how she plans to govern - by collaborating with both opposition parties and her own caucus.

She telephoned Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak on Saturday evening, shortly after she succeeded Premier Dalton McGuinty on the third and final ballot, and plans to talk to New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath on Sunday.

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"The rancor and the viciousness of the legislature can't continue," Ms. Wynne said at the news conference, where she was surrounded by five of her six leadership rivals. "We absolutely have to work out our disagreements."

Many of the challenges confronting Ontario are non partisan, she said, including the downturn in the province's manufacturing heartland. She is confronting her new role with a sense of urgency, and plans to tackle "within hours" several top priorities, including reforming social assistance programs and dealing with wage constraints in the public sector, which are key to helping erase the province's $12-billion deficit. In a nod to the ongoing labour strife with teachers, she also vowed to reach out to the education sector.

"I believe there are ways to find common ground," she said. "There are issues confronting us around balancing the budget, around transforming the health care system."

Ms. Wynne, who took mediation courses at Harvard University, said it is crucial for all three party leaders and their caucuses to be able to talk about issues without the "poison of that real viciousness."

She sounded optimistic about her first brief conversation with Mr. Hudak, describing it as a "very good opening." Mr. Hudak, who was not available to comment on Sunday, has released several white papers on a variety of topics in recent weeks in what is widely seen as his desire to have a snap election. He also had a fractious relationship with Ms. Wynne's predecessor.

Ms. Horwath plans to hold a news conference on Monday morning to publicly respond to Ms. Wynne's overtures.

Ms. Wynne is not tipping her hand on who will be in her new cabinet. She is pledging to bring the legislature back by Feb. 19 and said one of her first priorities will be reaching out to teachers, who have been embroiled in a fight with the province over a contract imposed on them that bans them from striking and cuts back their sick benefits.

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"I've been very clear that my door is going to be open and I am going to be making those calls to say, 'we have to re-engage,'" Ms. Wynne said.

However, she reiterated that she has no plans to rip up the controversial contracts imposed on teachers by Mr. McGuinty.

Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli said Mr. Hudak is anxious to hear how Ms. Wynne intends to address the province's huge debt load and unemployment. "We didn't hear anything about that," he said on Sunday.

NDP MPP Gilles Bisson said Ms. Wynne said "a lot of nice words" about poverty, but said he is not convinced the governing Liberals have the political will to actually address it.

Sandra Pupatello, Ms. Wynne's chief rival in the Liberal leadership race, was the only contender not at the news conference. A spokeswoman for Ms. Pupatello said she had made breakfast plans some time ago with her extended family, who travelled to Toronto to "support her."

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