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Politics Social justice, fiscal prudence are Wynne’s watchwords in Liberal race

Ontario Liberal leadership contender Kathleen Wynne visits The Globe and Mail’s Toronto headquarters on Jan. 17, 2013.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Liberal leadership contender Kathleen Wynne says she wants to be known as the social justice premier, but one who is cut from fiscally prudent cloth.

The foundation of a caring and compassionate society should focus on improving people's lives through such programs as better education for aboriginal students and the Liberals' existing child benefit available for low-income families, she said.

"Social justice is why I am in politics," Ms. Wynne told The Globe and Mail's editorial board on Thursday.

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But Ms. Wynne stressed that her platform should not to be confused with that of left-leaning New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath. Unlike the NDP, she said, she would pursue the governing Liberals' plan to eliminate the province's $14-billion deficit by 2017-18.

"I have not heard Andrea talk about fiscal responsibilities," she said.

Also at the top of her list would be finding a new revenue stream to finance transit projects and address gridlock in the Greater Toronto Area. Ms. Wynne's campaign team, including MPP Glen Murray, who dropped out of the leadership race last week, is exploring a number of options.

The same day Ms. Wynne offered a glimpse of how she would govern if she succeeds Premier Dalton McGuinty, her chief rival fired a broadside at Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

"Hudak is proud of booting people onto the street," Sandra Pupatello said in response to a pledge that the Tories would cut benefits for long-term welfare recipients.

The day highlighted a key distinction between the front-runners. Ms. Pupatello, 50, says she has the best chance of leading the Liberals to victory in the next election and is in no hurry to recall the legislature until she has a seat. Ms. Pupatello spent 16 years in government, most recently as the MPP for the riding of Windsor West, but stepped down before the 2011 election.

Ms. Wynne, 59, says it is imperative for the legislature to get back to business as soon as possible to overcome the controversy surrounding prorogation.

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"Am I happy the house is prorogued?" she said. "No. No one is happy."

Ms. Wynne acknowledged that she and Ms. Pupatello do not have many policy differences – they're both Liberals, after all. But they have very different styles. Ms. Pupatello is renowned for her partisan attacks on opposition members. Ms. Wynne is at her best talking about transportation, education and social policy.

"I'm a conciliator," Ms. Wynne said. "I'm able to reach out."

She plans to reopen the legislature on Feb. 19 if she wins the leadership race on the weekend of Jan. 26-27. On this front, she is in good company with the other four contenders, all of whom said they are more interested in governing than electoral scrapping.

Gerard Kennedy said he would recall the legislature immediately, even though he currently does not have a seat.

"The people of Ontario have the right to see the government functional," he said in an interview.

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