The political resurrection of Premier Kathleen Wynne: Cohn
A year ago the media peppered her with questions about stepping down. Today the media are asking if she will commit to a full term if re-elected.
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A year ago — call it the ghost of Christmas past — the media peppered Kathleen Wynne with questions about stepping down early to spare her Liberals a humiliating defeat in the next election.
This week — perhaps the ghost of Christmas present — the media was instead demanding whether she’d commit to a full term, through 2022, if re-elected as premier.
We can’t rely on any ghost of Christmas future to foretell the province’s political fate. But the mere fact that reporters had rephrased their questions to such an extent is perhaps a minor miracle for the premier whom many assumed would have given up the ghost by now.
In a series of year-end interviews Monday, Wynne wouldn’t tell the media how much longer she’d remain in power if her Liberals win next June 7. It’s still too early to take bets on a Wynne resurrection, but a premier who was given up for politically dead a year ago may now be in a dead heat, according to the more closely-watched public opinion polls.
Speaking to the Toronto Star in the corner office she has occupied since 2013, Wynne went out of her way to project a path to re-election that would focus on fairness amid economic uncertainty. Facing an unexpectedly centrist feint from the opposition Progressive Conservatives, who are vowing to more or less continue many Liberal programs they had previously criticized — from pharmacare to minimum wage increases — Wynne vowed to come out fighting in the new year with a distinctively progressive platform.
On Jan. 1, her government will implement a full youth pharmacare program covering Ontarians up to age 25. She wants Ottawa to bankroll an expansion for all adults nationally, but Wynne hinted at an Ontario-only program — much like her proposed provincial pension plan in the 2014 election — if federal funding “doesn’t happen” soon.
The premier wants her legacy to be about “social justice” but says she needs more time in government to leverage a strong economic recovery. While Ontario’s growth has led the industrialized world in recent years, and unemployment is at historic lows, the challenge of precarious work is rising.
Precarious employment could also be in Wynne’s personal political future.
If no party gains a majority in the next election, she hopes to form a minority government with support from the opposition New Democrats whose policies are more closely aligned. She cited their decision to prop up the Liberals from 2011-14, when the NDP wielded the balance of power.
“You would be in a precarious parliament, and so I think that you have to find a way to make it work,” Wynne mused in the interview. “No matter what the configuration, I will do everything to ensure that a progressive platform is implemented.”
That means expanding on recent progress in child care, pharmacare and dental care, while making “free tuition” even more accessible to postsecondary students. Wynne declined to divulge details of her upcoming campaign platform — likely to be unveiled in a spring pre-election budget — but said voters will soon get a taste of “the next pieces of our plan.”
Reflecting on the changing workplace, she said the party must also speak to displaced workers caught in recurring economic disruption. Government can provide more nimble support through education, but also through the basic income pilot her Liberals are testing for the working poor and people who jump from job to job.
“I have a deep belief that we don’t play on a level field, and so what can I do to level that playing field?” she said. “It’s our job as human beings to find ways to help each other, and so that for me is at the root of what government is about. We come together, and we decide as a society how we are going to support each other.”
And who gets to govern us.