TORONTO – Kathleen Wynne may no longer be the premier of Ontario, but she said she hopes her lasting presence in the halls of the legislature will inspire more young women to enter politics.
Wynne’s comments came as her official portrait was unveiled Monday evening in a ceremony at the building where she led a Liberal government for more than five years.
A crowd of dignitaries including politicians from across the political spectrum, supporters and family members attended the unveiling ceremony, an honour bestowed on all past premiers.
Wynne, who was also Canada’s first openly gay premier, told the crowd that she wanted the painting completed as soon as possible so that children touring the building would see a woman among the long line of former male leaders.
“When school groups go through Queen’s Park from now on, little girls, young women do not have to assume they are not welcome,” she said.
“They can now assume that it is possible for them to be who they choose to be and do what they choose to do.”
Wynne became premier in 2013 after winning the Liberal leadership following her predecessor Dalton McGuinty’s resignation.
She took the party from a minority government to a majority mandate in 2014, but also oversaw a sharp decline in Liberal fortunes caused in part by a plunge in her personal popularity.
The Liberals tumbled to third place and lost official party status in the June 2018 election, though Wynne held on to her own central Toronto seat.
Wynne’s picture was painted by artist Linda Kooluris-Dobbs, who also produced the official portraits of former premier David Peterson and former lieutenant-governor Hal Jackman.
The painting includes a number of items which symbolize aspects of the former premier’s personality and includes pictures of her three children.
Wynne said she asked Kooluris-Dobbs to include the items so that she could offer anyone who views the painting clues to her life and values.
In the painting, Wynne is wearing a light pink suit and is standing beside her desk in the premier’s office.
The portrait prominently features Wynne’s running shoes, a frequent political prop during the avid runner’s time in office. The portrait also includes an eagle’s feather, which was given to the former premier as a gift by Indigenous leader Sylvia Maracle when she was sworn-in.
“I found few quiet moments in my days as premier, but sometimes before walking out into the fray, the eagle feather calmed me – brought me back to myself, …. (and) I would find the strength to do what I needed to do,” she said.
Wynne introduced many popular policies, such as measures to fight climate change, free tuition for low-income students and an increase to the minimum wage. But she was also widely criticized over quickly rising electricity rates, the partial privatization of Hydro One and the province’s deepening fiscal deficit.
“Many more people will forget me than will remember me, but this picture captures one moment in Ontario’s story,” she said. “I look forward to a time when the portraits of our premiers reflect all the beautiful diversity of this province we love.”
Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell praised Wynne and said future generations will see “determination and courage, generosity and empathy” in the portrait.
Dowdeswell said she rewatched Wynne’s 2013 Liberal leadership convention speech in the days leading up to Monday’s ceremony, saying the former premier was her “most authentic self” when she asked publicly what many wondered privately.
“‘Can a gay woman win?’ Well she did. Twice,” Dowdeswell said. “And in doing so, and throughout her (time) in office, she became a role model to millions of Ontarians.”
Premier Doug Ford lauded Wynne for the passion she continues to bring to the legislature and stressed that she made history as the first woman and first LGBTQ premier of Ontario.
“Thanks to Kathleen, girls across this province know they can grow up and become anyone they want to be, including premier,” he said. “My hope is that this portrait will one day be joined by others, showcasing talented women of every political stripe that Kathleen has inspired.”