TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne sat down with Global News’ reporter Mark McAllister Tuesday for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Four months into Wynne’s first term as premier of Ontario, she has successfully passed her first budget but still faces challenges including the ongoing committee hearings into the cancelled gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga and securing dedicated funding for transit projects across Ontario.
Read the full interview below:
Mark McAllister (MM): Four months. It must seem like much, much longer at this point. You’ve faced a lot of issues in your first four months.
Kathleen Wynne (KW): A lot has happened in four months, that’s absolutely true. We set some targets, we set some markers that we wanted to hit over this period of time and we’ve hit a lot. We brought the legislature back at the earliest possible date. We brought in the throne speech and then a budget and managed to find enough common ground to get them passed. We reached out to the opposition. We reached out to teachers and extra-curricular for the most part came back into the schools. So, I’m proud of those accomplishments sand now it’s about making sure we implement that plan and people feel it in their lives.
MM: You no doubt want to enter this break on a positive note, much like you’ve just said, but you’ve got the gas plant questions overhanging at this point and they continue through the break. How do you overcome that?
KW: Well, I think that there are many parts to this job, being premier and one of them is responding to issues like the relocations of the gas plants. Another target that I set was to open up that process so that the justice committee or whatever committee was in place would be able to ask a full range of questions and that they would be able to explore all of the issues surrounding the relocation of the gas plants. So that’s ongoing and I understand that that is a significant aspect to my job but it’s only part of the job. The other part of the job is making sure that we implement the budget. That we lead by example with the other premiers from across the country and the council of confederation and bring in that leadership voice from Ontario because we are such an important part of the confederation and I want to work with my colleague premiers across the country. So, there’s a lot to this job.
MM: You talk about the open and transparent process at the committee. You’ve spent your time before the committee at this point. It continues though and those questions are going to be there as a result of that transparency. You will continue to have answer those questions yourself.
KW: That’s just as it is. The questions will continue. I hope at some point that the committee will move on to write a report and they and they will come to some final deliberations but that’s their prerogative and I was very clear that I want them to be able to ask a full range of questions and get the information that they wanted and so that’s what’s happening.
MM: At this point, we wait for a report or the process continues. As does public opinion as a result of the transparency and then once the report comes out. So, this isn’t going to end anytime soon for you. So what do you do about that public opinion?
KW: Well, you know, I’m doing my job. And during the time that the legislature isn’t sitting I’m going to be very busy. I’m going to be travelling the province. I’m going to be meeting with, as I have already, meeting with business leaders, owners, making sure that the changes that we are proposing and we’re going to be implementing the budget are, in fact, going to help them to grow.
KW: It’s really important to me that the proposals that we put in the budget and the changes that we are going to actually make a difference in people’s lives. And so, that’s the work I’m going o be doing over the summer and always looking ideas that can help us grow the economy and put Ontario on a firm footing. I’ve think we’ve got some good ideas in the budget and, as I say, we’ll be implementing those but there’s always room for more good ideas.
MM: At the same time, the opposition continues to paint you with the same paint as your predecessor. You’ve welcomed that. Why have you done so?
KW: What I’ve said is, I’ve been part of the government since 2003. We have made huge change in this province. We’ve strengthen the education system to the point that’s it’s considered one of the best in the world. We’ve put the health care system on a path of transformation that’s going to make it sustainable in the future. We’ve huge investments in infrastructure so I’m very proud of all of that. So, if the opposition wants to be relentlessly negative, that is their choice but I can’t afford to spend time doing that. I can’t afford time in that kind of attack mode. What we need to do is get Ontario on a solid footing. I need to work with my colleagues, premiers across the country because we need a strong relationship with the federal government as well. We need to have serious conversations about investments in infrastructure, transit, affordable housing. It’s really critical that those discussing take place.
MM: At the same, you’ve made some concessions in putting this budget through. As a result of that, you’re going to face more questions in having to do so. Was it enough to go that far?
KW: So, the language of ‘concession’ is one way of how we put the budget together but there’s another way of looking at it. This is the way I said I was going to work. That is to find common ground with the opposition because we’re in a minority parliament and I believe that when the people of Ontario elected a minority parliament, they’re expectation was the parties would work together. So, the fact is we wrote a budget that has aspects to it that should appeal to conservative voters and aspects that appeal to voters on the NDP side of the legislature. But it’s a Liberal budget and it found common ground and that’s why it was able to pass.
MM: Speaking of money, you’ve got another major issue in the near future and that is transit funding. Will you go ahead with the recommendations that Metrolinx has put forward?
KW: Metrolinx has put forward suggestions and we are now going to be having that discussion with the people of the region and beyond. So that we can decide exactly how we can raise that revenue stream. What we can’t do is back away from the need to invest in transit. There is no doubt that the economy of Ontario cannot afford the congestion that prevails right now in the GTHA. We have to do something about moving goods, moving people around the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area and we need recognize that the people in that region need to be able to pay for that and need to create that dedicated revenue stream. At the same time, making sure that roads and bridges in other parts of the province and transit in smaller communities around the province also need to be in place, so we’re addressing all of those issues as we talk about infrastructure.
MM: Are you prepared for an election on that issue?
KW: You know, I’m prepared for a general election and I’ve said all along that I’m happy to go into a general election if that’s what we need to do. What I know right now that people I’ve talked to are relieved that we aren’t going into an election, there wasn’t a strong appetite for a general election and so I’m going to continue to work to make sure that we create that dedicated revenue stream and we implement the budget as it is passed.
MM: How much emphasis do you put on the by-elections as a result?
KW: you know, by elections are interesting things. They are not necessarily a reflection of what would happen in a general eelection. We are going to do our very best to hold on to those seats and obviously we’ll have strong candidates and I look forward to knocking on some doors in those ridings.
MM: Everything you’ve said to this point as been fairly positive, do you want to look back on these last four months: overall, how do you think you’ve done in the way the public sees you?
KW: Well I think the people of Ontario will judge me, and what I have done, is I’ve tried to do the things that I have said I was going to do. I’ve tried to hit those targets and hit those markers and know I’m going to be talking to people in Ontario and I’m quite sure they will tell me what they think of me.
MM: Do you take a break this summer?
KW: I’m going to take a little bit of time at the beginning of July. I will confess I’m going to spend a little bit of time with my grandchildren but other than that I’m going to be on the job.
MM: So let’s get back to gas plants once again. As long as you’ve got the committee going about their business, it’ll always come back to you. How often are you prepared to continue on this same issue and continue to answer the questions?
KW: Well, we’ll take the time that it needs to take. The committee with determine the progress that it has made and how much more they want to do.