Kathleen Wynne served as Ontario’s 25th Premier from 2013 until 2018. Her Liberal government was defeated in the election this past June 7th but Wynne was re-elected as the MPP from Don Valley West and continues to represent Leaside at Queen’s Park as she has done since 2003.
On behalf of Leaside Life I sat down with Kathleen Wynne at her constituency office in Leaside on Friday, October 12th. In a wide-ranging conversation we discussed the recent election, her family, her activities outside politics, the issues facing Leaside, and her plans for the future.
Did you think going into the election in June there was a possibility of holding onto government or of the Liberal Party winning?
KW: Yes. If I hadn’t believed that I had a chance to lead the party to another win, then I would have stepped down. I’ve answered a lot of questions about why didn’t you step down two years ago, and I’ve been very open about that, that I thought about it, I talked to people about it; there was no movement within the Liberal Party to remove me, and there was no obvious successor. And we looked at the numbers and I had the best chance of winning; we knew that there was a really good chance because of 15 years, because of a whole bunch of factors that we would lose. So, we weren’t under any illusion: 2011 had been a hard election, nobody expected us to win in 2014, and so 2018 was a really long shot – we knew that.
When I saw you at the Terry Fox Run in September you looked relaxed and happy. Was there a sense on June 8th of a weight off your shoulders?
KW: It was very mixed, you know. There is certainly personal relief in having a different pace of life, of having more time to spend with my family. I see my grandchildren regularly. Jane and I have more time. I have aging parents and an ill sister, so there’s definitely a relief in now having my own car, being in control more of my time and being able to attend to those things.
So, you weren’t able to drive over the last five years?
KW: I haven’t driven for five years! Yeah, so I immediately went and bought a car! So, yes, there’s some relief in that. And, you know, I came to the Terry Fox Run on my own, my staff met me there, but I’m less constrained. I can go for a run now, whenever I want and I don’t have to let anyone know when I’m going.
Let’s talk about Leaside. You’ve been 15 years as the MPP for Don Valley West, including Leaside. I’m curious about how representing the people of Leaside differs from representing the people from Thorncliffe, say, or from other parts of the riding.
KW: Let me give you, I think, a really illustrative example. When the discussion around Costco was really heating up, we’d had initial conversations with the developers who were coming in and I knew that the Costco plan was in the works; I wanted jobs on that site. For me that was the most important because the number one concern of people in Thorncliffe Park is to have access to jobs, jobs to help them transition into the culture and into society. So, I was most concerned about jobs.
It was so interesting to me as that debate heated up that it became about a couple of things: it became about the form of the building, you know, the heritage of the building; and it became about traffic. It was a lot of Leaside people who were concerned and are concerned about the whole development of that industrial area, and for me what crystalized was that it is really important that we translate these needs, that we bridge these needs, that people understand that the fact that Costco has hired nearly 200 people from the community is critical. And for me that makes up for any of the traffic concerns. I mean, the fact is there’s going to be more traffic in this area; we are now part of the downtown, we are not a suburb, we’re not a small town…So, I was sympathetic to the concerns around the form of the building, I wanted it to be a good-looking building; I wanted there to be enough parking so that people who are coming into Costco weren’t going to create havoc, but at the same time I wanted those jobs. So, I think that’s a pretty good example of the different perspectives of those communities.
What issues are you working on now that you’re hoping you can still resolve while you’re the MPP?
KW: Well, I want to see the LRT built and functioning and I think the big issue related to that…well there are a couple of them. I think first there’s road safety in general. The provincial government actually passed legislation that allows for community safety zones, and Jon Burnside was a real advocate for that legislation. Also, the photo radar around schools, that was provincial legislation so my hope is that people will feel their roads are safe. We had that horrible accident with that little girl who was killed around Trace Manes and I think there was a fear that was stirred up because of that – rightly so – and I think that having rational traffic patterns and an understanding of where the community safety zones are, I think that’s the project that’s really important. The other one is the distribution of kids in schools so there are schools that are overcrowded and this is another issue that’s going to continue.
You have three children?
KW: I have three children. My first two kids were born in the Netherlands. I lived in Holland for three years from 1979 to 1981. My husband at the time had an opportunity to live overseas and I had just finished my masters in linguistics and I was very keen to live in another language, and so Christopher and Jessica were both born in 1980 and 1981 in Holland. And I told all my Dutch friends that I encountered that you have to speak to me in Dutch because, of course they all speak English, so I lived in Dutch for three years and it was very fun and a great place to start a family. It also informed my commitment to transit, and bike paths, you know because I rode everywhere. I rode my bike in Holland pregnant with one and with one on the front and I felt perfectly safe. It was perfectly safe because you had the lanes and the lights. So, Christopher’s 38 and he’s working for Navigator, the PR firm. Jessica, my second child, has three children; that’s where my grandchildren are – they’re in Orangeville – and she has been teaching outdoor education and has gone back to teachers’ college, so she’s doing that right now. And then my youngest, Maggie, is 34 and she’s an emergency nurse at TGH.
You said you see your grandchildren regularly?
KW: I do and, back to the beginning of our conversation about silver linings, I’ve declared Thursday as my family day so Jane and I pick the kids up after school on Thursday and we do dinner and are there until they go to bed. We go up to Orangeville for the after-school shift and especially with Jessie going back to teachers’ college, she can use that support right now.
Other than running, what are some of the other things that keep you busy or maybe that you weren’t able to do while you were Premier but that you now have time to do again?
KW: I love the outdoors. Jane and I try to do a canoe trip most summers. We didn’t do one this year because the election kind of sucked all our energy. But the year before last we paddled on the Yukon River. Usually we’re in Ontario – Killarney or Algonquin – so that is something I look forward to. I love reading mysteries. Linwood Barclay was a Toronto Star reporter but he’s been retired for years from journalism and he writes thrillers that are just, they’re page turners! Louise Penny is another one of my favourites. And I’m always reading some political non-fiction and a mystery at the same time.
Of political non-fiction, what are you reading now?
KW: Trumpocracy, by David Frum. I bought the one by Bob Woodward, Fear, but I haven’t started reading it. In the summer, Jane and I went to Prince Edward County because David Frum was talking in Trenton and we heard him speak. Well, you know, he worked for George Bush and he was a Republican and he’s very disillusioned. So, it was a very interesting conversation. The other thing that I’m very interested in, this summer I read Seven Fallen Feathers, by Tanya Talaga. It’s a very disturbing book, but it’s a very important book, I think.
Read the complete unabridged interview here.