Archive - January 2013

  • TORONTO STAR - How Kathleen Wynne can win labour peace after Liberals lost it: Cohn

Date posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 2:38 pm
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Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Kathleen Wynne can win labour peace after Liberals lost it: Cohn

Martin Regg Cohn, Queen's Park columnist
Kathleen Wynne is seeking a reconciliation between labour and the Liberals after a painful divorce that is hurting the kids.

Never mind a honeymoon with the public. Kathleen Wynne is seeking a reconciliation between labour and the Liberals after a painful divorce that is hurting the kids.

Quite apart from her party's calculus, and the concerns of unionized teachers, we all have a vested interest in seeing Wynne heal the wounds. Can our incoming grandmother-premier, fresh from winning the Liberal leadership, win one for the kids?

And the grown-ups? Remember that labour peace isn't just for the school kids caught in the crossfire, but benefits the larger unionized workforce, affects the big private employers who drive the economy, and ultimately touches all of us who depend on all the players working things out - and getting back to work.

For Wynne, winning peace with the province's workers is Job One.

The premier-to-be says it's time for teachers to resume extracurricular activities: Kids want it, parents want it, teachers want it.

"I need extra - we need extracurriculars back in this province, our kids need extracurriculars back," Wynne said, sitting at the head of a borrowed boardroom table in the Legislature (while her transition staff darted in and out of the next room).

Speaking to the Star just ahead of a summit with leaders of Ontario's four big teachers unions late Tuesday, Wynne acknowledged she can't buy back their support because the treasury is empty. She won't reopen wage freezes with any public servants who got zapped.

But she importuned teachers to resume coaching soccer, directing plays and conducting band practice. And she is asking their leaders to take the hint on extracurriculars before it's too late.

"They will need to bring to the table some suggestions about how we can move forward," she says. "That for me is going to be squarely at the middle of the discussion, because that is the most urgent issue that we're dealing with, vis-à-vis kids."

Wynne is a trained mediator who often worked as a facilitator before winning election as a school trustee. She ended up as the education minister who negotiated with teachers' unions in 2008 when there was more money, but no less trouble. What happens if they turn her down now?

She pauses, takes a deep breath - and tries to buy time.

"I will cross that bridge when I come to it," Wynne begins, before ending with a prediction: "I believe that teachers in every school in this province and support staff want to be engaged with kids."

After meeting Wynne, the public teachers' unions spent Wednesday searching for an exit strategy on extracurriculars. Regardless of whether they back down, or ultimately back themselves into a corner, there are bigger labour issues looming in the background.

For example: The minimum wage, stuck at $10.25 for nearly three years. Will she raise it? Wynne told me she doesn't like the "ad hoc" process that adjusts the benchmark on a whim, and wants wages linked to more coherent economic trends, not political currents.

We'll see, says Smokey Thomas, who heads the influential Ontario Public Sector Employees Union. But he acknowledges her reputation for forthright conversations and describes her as the rare progressive who doesn't overpromise.

"I really like Kathleen Wynne," Thomas told me. "I've always found Kathleen straightforward, straight up ... If she could just get
some kind of a dialogue going."

For her part, Wynne wants a "more balanced" relationship: not just more face time, but bringing unions face to face with economic decision-makers in the private sector. For example, labour was poorly represented on Dalton McGuinty's blue chip economic council (headed by bankers and dominated by big business).

"Right now is a very important moment for organized labour," she mused.

Wynne cites the anti-union climate spreading across the U.S. (recently embraced by Tory Leader Tim Hudak). Ontario can't just badmouth the "right-to-work" movement, it has to do better - by working together.

"I need to go beyond that - and we need to develop a much more shared vision among business and labour and government," she says. "How are we going to work together to create jobs? What kind of jobs are those going to be, what can young people expect in terms of their future?

"And are we just agreeing that we're going to race to the bottom, or do we really believe that Ontario can be a different kind of jurisdiction?"

Questions worth asking: A high wage economy, and a higher minimum wage?

The answers will affect kids playing in the schoolyard, but also grown-ups in the workplace - and, ultimately, the young people who graduate from schools in search of jobs.
  • TORONTO STAR - Hepburn: Is Tim Hudak on the far-right road to victory?

Date posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:30 pm
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January 31, 2013

Hepburn: Is Tim Hudak on the far-right road to victory?

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak gambles his political future by duplicating the controversial Common Sense Revolution policies of Mike Harris.

Bob Hepburn. Columnist,
Back on May 3, 1994, Ontario Conservative leader Mike Harris unveiled an easy-to-read, 21-page document he called the "Common Sense Revolution."

His message was simple: slash taxes, cut public service jobs, crack down on welfare recipients, beat up on labour unions, privatize government agencies, get tough on crime and create 725,000 new jobs.

"We need a revolution in this province - a Common Sense Revolution," Harris said as he released what was in effect his campaign platform a full year ahead of the 1995 election, which he won handily.

Fast forward 19 years to today and Tim Hudak, the current Tory leader. While Ontario Liberals have been busy selecting a new leader, Hudak has spent the past months shifting his party to the far right by issuing a series of policy papers that will form the backbone of the Conservative platform in the next election.

His simple message: slash taxes, cut public service jobs, crack down on welfare recipients, beat up on labour unions, privatize government agencies, get tough on crime and create thousands of new jobs.

Hudak calls his proposals "bold, transformative ideas to fire up job creation and balance the books."

Sound familiar? Indeed, Hudak is now fully embracing the controversial 1994 policies of Mike Harris, his old boss.

By doing so, though, he is gambling his entire political future on his belief that the Harris era is now just a faded memory for many Ontario voters and that the time is once again perfect to champion far-right policies.

If he's correct, Hudak will defeat new Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in the coming election, which likely will occur later in 2013.

If he's wrong, he will have led the Conservatives to a second straight defeat under his leadership. In that case, he will either resign graciously or be unceremoniously dumped by the party.

Hudak is swinging hard-right after his disappointing performance in the 2011 election in which many Conservatives claimed he was
not right-wing enough. He is also now listening closer to advice from key players from the Harris glory days, including his wife Deb Hutton, who was chief of staff to the former premier.

In shifting right, Hudak is also playing to the angry, regressive voting crowd that was critical to Rob Ford becoming mayor of Toronto.

Reverting at this time to Harris-era policies and rhetoric, however, is a curious decision for Hudak.

If anything, his timing may be all wrong for a shift to the right. That's because, despite widespread unhappiness with the Liberals under outgoing premier Dalton McGuinty, there is no clear evidence that voters are ready to embrace a Harris-like clone after the long-term havoc caused by the Harris administration.

The best indication of that so far is Hudak's right-wing shuffle has had little impact in the polls that show the Tories stuck in the 33- to 35-per-cent range. Pollsters say his new policies have little appeal beyond his hard-core supporters. In fact, many voters who once favoured the Liberals are moving not to Hudak, but to the NDP, which is a close second behind the Conservatives in the polls.

That's a big difference from 1995 when Harris caught a wave of voter discontent that surfaced after a brutal economic recession and five years of NDP government under then-premier Bob Rae.

Voters were angry with taxes and deficits and wanted something completely different.
Political experts are divided on how the Liberals and NDP should respond to Hudak's rightward swing. Some say it is foolish to try to link Hudak with Harris because voters want to look forward and that "scaring" voters won't work. Others say political mileage can be gained by reminding voters of the divisive politics sparked by the Harris agenda.

Ultimately, to succeed Hudak will need a good understanding of how Ontario has changed in the 19 years since the unveiling of the Common Sense Revolution, especially on our views toward the role of government.

Simply replicating the Harris agenda, going back rather than forward, could prove disastrous for Hudak.
After their loss in the U.S. presidential election in November, many Republicans conceded their party had tilted too far to the right and was out of sync with the views of most Americans.

It's a lesson Hudak should consider seriously before totally convincing himself that the right-wing course driven by Harris in 1994-95 will be once again the road to victory.
  • Toronto Star - Union memos not illegal, teachers say

Date posted: Thursday January 31, 2013 11:11 am
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January,  31 2013

Louise Brown Toronto Star
When the Liberal government wiped any mention of extracurricular activities from the Education Act in 2009, they removed any legal barrier to a teacher boycott of these activities, according to the lawyer for the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

As a result, union memos calling on teachers to withdraw from such after-school activities are not illegal, argued Howard Goldblatt Wednesday at a hearing before the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

"Once the government removed 'co-instructional activities' from the Education Act - and also from the definition of a strike - there was nothing to prohibit teachers from refusing to participate in these activities," said Goldblatt.

Two school boards are seeking a cease-and-desist order from the labour relations board against ETFO for issuing memos instructing teachers to refuse to do everything from coach teams and run field trips to collect milk money, as a way to protest the government's imposition of contracts using Bill 115.

The Trillium Lakelands District School Board in cottage country and the Upper Canada District School Board in eastern Ontario are arguing that the memos telling teachers not to do anything extra are illegal because they are a "concerted" move to advise teachers to disrupt the "normal activities of a school," which constitutes "unlawful strike activity" under the Education Act.

The hearing continues Thursday.
  • TORONTO STAR - Ontario teacher protests: $10,000 school play too much, parents say

Date posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 11:09 am

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Ontario teacher protests: $10,000 school play too much, parents say

Kristin Rushowy, Education Reporter
Jim Barry volunteered to help with the school play at his son's high school after teachers stopped running extracurricular activities.  But now, the show can't go on.

After stepping forward, Barry was appalled to learn all the costs parents would incur to stage the play - from renting the school auditorium for rehearsals and performances, to buying insurance, to hiring police officers for security during the shows - all required by the Toronto District School Board.

The price tag? About $10,000.

"I really resent the TDSB's approach," said Barry, whose children attend Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute. "I thought the TDSB would do everything it could possibly do to facilitate parents picking up the slack, but instead they are siding with the union.

"We are being treated no differently than someone who has no connection to the school." Barry was most upset about having to rent the auditorium at rates for outside, private businesses.

"We are renting facilities we are already paying for with our taxes," he said.

While there is new hope that premier-designate Kathleen Wynne will be able to ease the strife with the province's public school teacher unions, parents are frustrated by the continued lack of after-school clubs and sports for their kids and are increasingly pushing to take them over while the job action persists.

Just renting the auditorium for three performances is $3,755. To top it off, the school would not allow parents to use contact lists to advertise the event.

Parents also had to cover the cost for the rights to perform the play, The Dining Room, pegged at up to $2,500.

He understands parents' frustration and acknowledged the costs involved, but said it's impossible for principals to sponsor every group and it's not fair for them to pick and choose.

Bird also believes the fee to use the play was about $800 for three nights, not $2,500.
Local trustee Howard Goodman is working on a motion for trustees to vote on that would give parents a break on the costly permit fees.

What it would cost:
*  rental of school auditorium for dress rehearsal: $417.25 per hour, or $1,251.75 for one, three-hour dress rehearsal, plus $30 insurance
*  rental of school auditorium for three performances: $3,755.25
*  insurance (provided through board): $30 a day, for three performances, $90 plus tax
*  caretaking costs for three performances: $378
*  police security for three performances: $1,560
*  fees for rights to use the play: $1,500-$2,500
*  insurance, caretaking costs and rental of school space for rehearsals: in the thousands, depending on the number booked
*  other costs: equipment/sets/costumes, advertising, ticket/sales


  • TORONTO STAR - Poll: Kathleen Wynne puts Liberals in dead heat with NDP, Tories

Date posted: Thursday, January 31, 2013 11:07 am

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poll: Kathleen Wynne puts Liberals in dead heat with NDP, Tories

Rob Ferguson Richard J. Brennan and Robert Benzie, Rookie Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne has given the governing party a much-needed boost in popularity, a new poll suggests.

In the first public opinion survey since the incoming premier took over the Grit helm from Dalton McGuinty, Wynne is ahead of both Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

"One thing Dalton McGuinty did very effectively when he left is he took the anger with him," Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research Group, said Wednesday.

"More people like Kathleen Wynne already than liked Dalton McGuinty when he left," said Lyle.

Wynne's Liberals led with 24 per cent to 23 per cent for Hudak's Tories, 20 per cent for Horwath's New Democrats and 7 per cent for Mike Schreiner's Greens. There were 14 per cent undecided, 11 per cent who refused to respond or would not vote, and 2 per cent who supported other parties.

That's a statistical dead heat among the three major parties given the sample size of 446 people. The telephone survey, conducted Sunday to Tuesday, is considered accurate to within 4.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"It's wide open so it's the Liberals' game to lose."

Gender seems to be a huge plus for Wynne, Ontario's first woman premier. Some 70 per cent of respondents agreed it was "exciting" to have a female at the helm.

"If I was running the Tory or NDP campaign, that's the thing that would scare me. The view that this new leader, because of her gender, because of her personality, because, because, because, is exciting," said Lyle.

"And if people get excited about this new premier, that's really good news for the Liberals and really bad news for everybody else."

When it came to who would be the best premier, Wynne, who hasn't even been sworn in yet, was at 24 per cent, ahead of Hudak at 18 per cent, with Horwath trailing at 13 per cent.

Innovative also asked whether sexual orientation would play a role in voters' decision-making because Wynne is the first lesbian premier in Canadian history.

"It's not a problem for her," said Lyle, noting more than four in five respondents agree "it's a good thing" or don't really care, with just 16 per cent expressing concern about that.

"At the most, it's a consideration for people who already have a lot of other considerations about who they would vote for," he said.

Wynne, meanwhile, met Wednesday with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who was the first provincial leader to congratulate her when she won the Liberal leadership Saturday.

"It is pretty exciting that premier Wynne is going to come in at a time in Canada that really is important for our national development," Redford, who worked closely with McGuinty, said after their meeting at Queen's Park.

While Wynne is yet to name a cabinet, Horwath said she wants the upcoming spring budget to close $1 billion in corporate tax loopholes, establish an on-the-job training program for youth, and allow people on welfare who find jobs to keep more of their pay before clawing it back.

The welfare change, recommended in a major report on social assistance reform last year, is something Hudak also supports.

Wynne has indicated she likes that idea as well and has declared youth unemployment as a priority issue.

"We have a real opportunity to get things done here," Horwath said, noting she will raise more demands in the coming days.
  • TORONTO SUN - Wynne shouldn't punish Broten in her fresh-faced cabinet

Date posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 4:07 pm

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wynne shouldn't punish Broten in her fresh-faced cabinet

TORONTO - Incoming premier Kathleen Wynne is taking a crash course in the fine art of cabinet making.

Wynne met with Liberal MPPs Tuesday and over the next few days will put together a new cabinet.

While conventional wisdom says you reward your friends, her big task now is to bring the party together.

Before the caucus meeting, she reminded reporters that after she became premier Saturday night, she called all her MPPs onto stage.

"That was my first signal that the leadership has been about choosing a leader among members of a party," she said. "For me there are no hard feelings."

While Wynne has publicly been lavish in her praise for outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty, the reality is she must quietly distance herself from him and his government.

That means chopping up his cabinet and building a new one.

A couple of key players have made that easier for her.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is taking a job on Bay St. Energy Minister Chris Bentley isn't running again. One person to watch in the next few days is Education Minister Laurel Broten.

There's no question she'll be moved from that portfolio. Wynne has to signal to the teacher unions that hers is a Brave New World and she's trying to make up with them.

At the same time she can't turn Broten into a sacrificial lamb.

She was given a tough, no-win job.

The nasty fight she had with the teachers was not of her making and it would be unfair of Wynne to relegate Broten to a minor cabinet role simply for implementing the government of the day's policy. It doesn't help Broten that she picked the wrong person to back for the leadership.

She was supporting Pupatello.

Then again, most of the McGuinty loyalists were backing the second-place finisher.

This battle with the teachers has been hard on Broten.

She has been front and centre day after day, doing a lot of the heavy lifting while other cabinet ministers were on cruise control.

She's an impressive performer. A lawyer, fluently bilingual, some even thought Broten might take a run for the leadership herself.

Since McGuinty required cabinet ministers to resign to take a run at his job, she could have unloaded a whole lot of grief if she'd taken a shot at the top job.

It would be unwise of Wynne to publicly rebuke Broten by dropping her from cabinet or giving her a minor portfolio. Voters will see that as Wynne caving in to the teacher unions and it will not play well.

Wynne has other choices to make.

McGuinty notoriously did not open up his cabinet to new faces.

There are a number of competent people who've sat on the backbench for many years who could make it in this time.

Dr. Helena Jaczek is a former medical officer of health who's extremely capable. David Zimmer has been waiting for a call for years.

Ottawa Centre's Yasir Naqvi, the party president, has served loyally and will likely be rewarded.

Health Minister Deb Matthews was at Wynne's side as campaign chair throughout last weekend.

That kind of loyalty will be rewarded.

Scuttlebutt has it that either Charles Sousa or Glen Murray will be finance minister. But Matthews has more cabinet experience than either of them and could be the surprise choice.

Or Wynne may choose to put Matthews in education - a ministry that's going to be a tall task for whoever gets it. Expect big changes.

PC Leader Tim Hudak is already portraying Wynne as the same-old, same-old.

She must show she's a new premier, with different faces - and fresh ideas.

  • Toronto Star - Job action has 'profound' impact on kids, boards say

Date posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 4:04 pm

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Louise Brown Toronto Star
Ontario teachers' refusal to run extracurricular activities only packs a political punch if it has "profound consequences on students," claims the lawyer for two school boards seeking a cease-and-desist order to the boycott.

But the Education Act is designed to protect children from actions that let political foes "take it out on the kids," said lawyer Michael Hines on Tuesday at a hearing into the legality of the after-school boycott before the Ontario Labour
Relations Board.

"If this work-to-rule succeeds it will have profound consequences on these children . . . and that doesn't begin to address the impact on student safety and achievement . . . and the (engagement) that keeps many of them in school," said Hines, who is representing the Trillium Lakelands District School Board in cottage country and the Upper Canada District School Board in eastern Ontario.

"There is a cost to this withdrawal of extracurriculars - it only works (as a political tool) if it causes hardship to the children," Hines said.

The two school boards are asking Labour Relations Board chair Bernard Fishbein to rule against bulletins the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has sent out directing teachers not to fulfil an array of duties beyond the mandatory 300 minutes of teaching a day.

The memos are part of a province-wide directive from ETFO to withdraw from extra duties as a protest after the province used Bill 115 to impose contracts on teachers in the public English-language boards.

In these "takeover bulletins" issued Jan. 14 and 16, ETFO instructs teachers not to fill in for a principal when asked or attend a meeting other than a staff meeting, and to boycott professional development. They also are not to add more comments on upcoming report cards than they deem necessary in their own judgment.

The boards also are asking Fishbein to rule against memos from union officials warning teachers not to participate in "field trips, excursions, clubs, teams and 'electives.' "

  • Toronto Star - Wynne gathers teachers for talks; First positive meeting in more than a year, says union chief

Date posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 11:02 am

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Wed Jan 30 2013

Kristin Rushowy Toronto Star
Leaders of teachers' unions emerged from an 80-minute meeting Tuesday with
Ontario's incoming premier, saying talks were productive and raising hopes of
ending the labour tensions in Ontario schools.

The meeting marked a change in the bitter relations between the Liberal government
and the unions, which prompted elementary teachers to organize one-day
strikes in December over Bill 115 and its power to curb bargaining rights and impose
collective agreements. The controversy has led to public school teachers - both
elementary and secondary - withdrawing extracurricular activities.

"It was the first meeting I've had with government representatives in over a year
that was positive," said Sam Hammond, head of the Elementary Teachers'
Federation of Ontario, Canada's largest teacher union. "It was a pleasant change."

Hammond said the federation will be meeting with government representatives
to "keep the conversation going" over the next week.

"We talked about how we could move forward," but nothing more specific than
that, he added.

Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne, a former education minister and school
trustee, has said she will not "rip up" the two-year contracts that were imposed on
teachers at the start of the year as the unions have demanded, but she also wants
extracurricular activities to return to public schools.

Tuesday's dinnertime meeting included the heads of all the teacher federations,
including Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers'
Federation. Coran called the meeting "productive." He has said the province
could work out "memorandums of understanding" on contentious issues to get
around the contracts and break the impasse.

Ontario's Catholic teachers negotiated deals with the province last year, and teachers in
those boards have not withdrawn extracurriculars. Their union also attended
Tuesday's talks.

  • TORONTO STAR - In selecting Kathleen Wynne, Ontario Liberals flash a rare display of political genius

Date posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 4:04 pm

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January 29, 2013

The NDP's Andrea Horwath is the strategic threat to the provincial Liberal party, not Tim Hudak's neo-con nostrums

Robin V. Sears
On Saturday, Liberals showed the political genius for which their party was once famous, but has been recently exceedingly rare. Not 10 metres from where I sat with old political rival and personal friend John Tory, we watched it unfold. And, as pundits do, we pretended to understand what it all meant.

Surrounded by his wife and advisers sat the "conscience of the party," having delivered the speech of his career but harvesting too few delegates to stay in the race. Under the TV lights, snooped upon by voyeurs like my pundit colleagues and under the brutal stopwatch rules of the convention, he had less than 20 minutes to make one of the most fateful decisions of his life.

Eric Hoskins had absolutely no way of knowing which choice was a disaster and which was a career-maker. If he jumped to Sandra Pupatello, many of his young supporters would be annoyed at his siding with the establishment. If he blessed Kathleen Wynne and she lost, the party machine might punish his impertinence. If he did nothing, he courted irrelevance.

We watched in stunned silence as Greg Sorbara slid gracefully into his box, seized Hoskins in a body hug, whispering so intently in his ear, a message of such power, that the candidate begin to tear up. Sorbara, genuinely the father of modern Ontario Liberals, let him go, gave him a searching gaze and retreated as quickly as he had come.

What could it mean?

Surprisingly, Sorbara had hailed Kathleen Wynne's speech as the finest he had "ever heard in a leadership convention . . ." More surprisingly, Sorbara had been preceded in the Hoskins box, first by Deb Matthews, an early Wynne champion, and then by her brother-in-law, former premier David Peterson. Hoskins, sweating his choice until almost too late, finally donned his Wynne scarf and made his way to the floor. He set up the concessions on the next ballot by Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy for the victorious Wynne.

We all looked at each other in astonishment as the penny dropped - the machine was not united behind the "inevitable winner" after all!

The Pupatello inner circle, the "boys from the Centre" and the consultants, lawyers and government staffers who make up the heart of the party apparatus, had persuaded the media that their candidate was the logical, even inevitable choice. They were not being entirely truthful. They did not have the support of the ex-officio voters they claimed. But we all should have been wary about this insiders' conventional wisdom; inflation, exaggeration and bald-face lies are the common currency of leaderships, after all.

As the delegation of Matthews, Peterson and Sorbara demonstrated, there were some in the leadership who recognized that Andrea Horwath is the strategic threat to the party, not Tim Hudak's '90s neo-con nostrums. They understood, as the Liberal party has also known when not blinded by arrogance, that it must "campaign from the left and govern from the centre." Or as Premier-Designate Wynne put it, that Liberals are the party of "social justice and fiscal responsibility."

The arrogance was, of course, also on display with too many promises to "force the opposition to their knees." Claims that only Liberals could reveal the risk of their opponents' "dogmas" conflicted with pledges "to reach across the aisle." There was little evidence the party has reflected on the smack it had received from voters only a few months ago. Pupatello's speech was long on war cries and opposition insult, light on vision or message.

Kathleen Wynne was both more subtle and more compelling. Chiding Pupatello's seatlessness, she pledged to relaunch the legislature in less than three weeks. What moved the convention, however, was her eloquent weaving of a political tapestry combining the religious, ethnic, racial and gender rights battles with her own journey on sexual orientation. She handled it with the same deft confidence as John Kennedy on Catholicism or Barack Obama on race.

As much as it may enrage New Democrats, the party chose the most progressive candidate available - and endorsed Wynne's activist and ambitious social agenda at the same time. However, as she said in her acceptance speech and more fully in her first news conference, "That was the easy part. The hard part starts now."

This week we will see whether Wynne has the coalition- and confidence-building skills the party has gambled on. Whether she succeeds or is destined to the defeat that many failed "transition" leaders suffer - having inherited too much dirty political baggage - the party made a smart and surprisingly courageous choice.

Robin V. Sears is a principal of the Earnscliffe Strategy Group. He served as Bob Rae's chief of staff during the Peterson-Rae Accord years.

  • GLOBE AND MAIL - Ontario's Wynne must scramble to deliver Substance

Date Posted - Monday, January 28, 2013 3:48 pm

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January 28, 2013

Adam Radwanski

Ontario's next premier has three weeks to hire her new staff, name her new cabinet, write a Speech from the Throne, kick-start an overdue budget process, find common ground with her political opponents - and put together a campaign team for a general election just in case it doesn't all go as planned.

And in the midst of all that, Kathleen Wynne has to bridge the gap between her desire for a kinder, gentler province and the harsh realities that face it.

Ms. Wynne has made clear that she wishes to shift the government somewhat leftward from the single-minded austerity agenda recently pursued by her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty. That's partly because of her own commitment to "social justice." It might also allow her minority Liberals to maintain government with NDP support, and ultimately to win back some votes.
But she has also repeatedly reiterated her commitment to eliminate the province's $11.9-billion deficit by 2017-18, and the leadership campaign did little to illuminate how she intends to strike that balance.

A new leader would normally be able to take some time to figure all this out. But Ms. Wynne won the leadership partly on a promise to resume the province's prorogued legislature at the earliest opportunity on Feb. 19, and now must scramble.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, she at least tipped her hand a little. She went out of her way to highlight her commitment to implementing recommendations from a social-assistance review co-chaired by former NDP minister Frances Lankin, which has been gathering dust since its release last October.

Those proposals, which included reducing barriers to re-entering the workforce by extending more benefits to low-income earners, could be presented as marrying social and economic interests in a way that would ultimately benefit the provincial coffers.

Extending drug coverage for certain medications, as she proposed during the campaign, might similarly be heralded as a way to ultimately reduce health-care costs. But her challenge will be to find other policies that can be implemented in relatively short order, and meet such criteria.

During the campaign, Ms. Wynne committed to finally getting serious about making infrastructure investments needed to ease traffic congestion in the Greater Toronto Area. If she actually has enough political capital to bring in unspecified new revenues streams, be they taxes or tolls, is questionable. And on other big-picture priorities she flagged Sunday, such as reducing youth unemployment, there are no obvious quick fixes, let alone easily affordable ones.

Just as important is the question of how far she is willing to go to make peace with unions. Ms. Wynne has indicated that she will not tear up the contracts imposed under the controversial Bill 115, which has led teachers to take strike days and withhold extracurricular services. So she will likely try to make do with getting the ball rolling on more favourable contracts when the current ones expire in 2014.

When it comes to the NDP, all policy debates may be moot if Ms. Wynne can't find a way out of the mess involving the costly cancellation of gas-fired power plants, which before prorogation had the opposition parties preparing to bring contempt charges against the government. With energy minister Chris Bentley set to leave provincial politics, those parties' real target will be the advisers around Mr. McGuinty who were widely believed to have been calling the shots. Whether the new Premier is willing to give the Opposition that pound of flesh will test just how much she really does want to distance herself from her predecessor.

Before making all these decisions, Ms. Wynne needs to figure out who will help her make them. A new chief of staff - former cabinet colleague John Wilkinson and veteran political staffer Andrew Bevan are two rumoured possibilities - will be pressed to reconfigure the Premier's office. And after she names her cabinet, several rookie ministers (not to mention shuffled veterans) will be learning their files.

Ms. Wynne appeared to give more thought than her leadership competitors to what would happen following the convention, striking a transition team helmed by former cabinet colleague Monique Smith. Still, the reality is that during a compressed two-month campaign, almost all of her focus was on the finish line rather than what would happen after she crossed it.

She showed during the campaign that she's highly adaptable, going from a tentative performance in the first leadership debate to a terrifically confident pitch to delegates at the convention. But as she conceded during her victory speech, winning was the easy part.