May 5, 2014 6:07 am

Wynne wants Ontarians to look past McGuinty’s scandals

TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne has a lot of political baggage to carry as she travels the province in her first election campaign as leader of the governing Liberals.

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She inherited the troubles of her predecessor Dalton McGuinty: a criminal probe in the questionable business dealings of the province’s Ornge air ambulance service, the cancellation of two unpopular gas plants at a cost of up to $1.1 billion and a police investigation into the deletion of documents, and potentially unsafe girders installed in a parkway in Windsor that the government didn’t disclose for months.

Asked whether that controversial legacy will loom large over the Liberals’ effort to win a fourth mandate, Wynne said she’s brought transparency and openness to the job since she was sworn in as premier more than year ago.

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What voters should consider is the budget her government proposed – which includes a proposed pension plan and billions in public transit funding – “that I know is in the best interests of the people of the province,” she said last week after announcing a June 12 election.

“The thing I’m most concerned about is that we have the opportunity to implement that plan,” she said. “That’s how I’m going into this election period and I look forward to talking about that plan with people across the province.”

Wynne, 60, became Ontario’s first woman premier and Canada’s first openly gay provincial leader when she took office on Feb. 11, 2013. But her position hasn’t been ratified by voters.

Born in Toronto, Kathleen O’Day Wynne married Phil Cowperthwaite in 1977 and moved to the Netherlands for a few years before returning to Canada. She has a son and two daughters as well as three grandchildren.

Wynne came out as a lesbian at age 37 and married Jane Rounthwaite – whom she’d first met in university about 30 years prior – in 2005.

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She was first elected to the legislature in 2003 after serving as a Toronto school trustee and running her own company as a conflict mediation professional.

Wynne said she made the jump to provincial politics because she wanted to defeat a Conservative government that had slashed spending and pushed ahead with controversial changes to public services that sparked widespread labour unrest and sometimes violent demonstrations.

She took on important portfolios under McGuinty, serving as minister of aboriginal affairs, municipal affairs, transportation and education.

Her reputation as a conciliator was part of her appeal during the leadership contest, a skill she’s used to mend fences with public school teachers angry over wage-freeze legislation and rural communities upset over decisions to cancel the slots-at-racetracks program and the installation of industrial wind turbines.

She also managed to pass one budget by tailoring it to satisfy the New Democrats, who now say they can no longer support such a scandal-plagued government.

Though she used to invoke McGuinty’s name frequently during her run for the leadership, it barely passes her lips now.

“I am Kathleen Wynne and I am running in this election against Andrea Horwath of the NDP and Tim Hudak of the Progressive Conservatives and the other parties that are involved,” she said.

“And I am taking on this challenge because I believe we have the best team and the best plan for the people of this province.”

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