Kathleen Wynne’s victory may buy Liberals a new lease

Kathleen Wynne as Ontario’s new premier, a job she inherits by dint of being elected leader of the governing Liberals, takes on the dual roles of being a suspicious person for some, such as many of Ontario’s public servants who will be inclined to see her only as a part of the McGuinty establishment with all its baggage, while others will see her as the main hope for the Liberal brand to remain popular in Ontario.

Each of those expectations, the one rooted in cynicism and the other a desperate hope for a bright Liberal future, places an enormous burden on a new premier who must also deal with the burdens of debt reduction and the ever-increasing cost of health care and education.

If anyone in the Liberal organization can manage all of this at once it will certainly be Ms. Wynne as she presents herself as at once conciliatory and tough as nails. She’ll either pull it off or she won’t.

All day Kindergarten, which she introduced as education minister, should be safe as long as she is premier so parents who have welcomed this as low-cost daycare may now rest easier in the Liberal fold.

Another key plank in the Wynne coalition that was clearly designed to be an effort to re-build relationships with rural Ontario was Ms. Wynne’s campaign promise to take on the agricultural portfolio should she succeed to the premier’s post. Her experience in the aboriginal sector may also play a key role in extending the Liberal’s reach in rural ridings, particularly here in the North.

Ms. Wynne, on her election day, was right to stress that Ontarians are in no mood for yet another election so Ontario’s public servants and other organized workers may be satisfied with whatever give and take she is required to participate in to maintain NDP support for her minority government. More potential votes at the expense of both opposition parties.

Dalton McGuinty took a bullet for his Liberals when he supported the imposition of Bill 115 and the ensuing mandated contracts for Ontario’s teachers. He went from being “education premier” to one who teachers and other public servants vilified as Ontario’s worst-ever chief executive.

The prorogation of the legislature and, the same day, his announcement of his intention to retire, closed down the business of the legislature so his party could not be defeated in the ensuing chaos and allowed the Liberals to move on to a new leader with a quite different style, not to mention gender.

In the meantime, the fix is in to shave some millions of public sector wages, the controversial Bill 115 has been repealed, the Liberals have a new leader and Mr. McGuinty has, for now, replaced former PC premier Mike Harris as the main bad guy and so drew this kind of negative fire away from those seeking, like Ms. Wynne, to replace him.

All in all, it’s been quite an artful accomplishment and one which should buy Ms. Wynne some time to mend fences, make new alliances and look for other ways in which to mend Ontario’s economy and the expectations of citizens still reeling at this province being suddenly dropped into the “have not” barrel.

Mr. McGuinty’s move will certainly enable the Liberals to make at least some new friends and if anyone is capable of pulling this off it is Ms. Wynne who, it is predictable, will canvas this province and do whatever is necessary to come up the centre and so do what Liberals have traditionally done best to retain power.

We’ll see.