Kathleen Wynne in conversation – unabridged

Below is the complete unabridged interview that columnist Allan Williams had with Kathleen Wynne.

Interview with Kathleen Wynne conducted in her Constituency Office in Leaside on Friday, October 12th from 11:30 AM – 12:15 PM

AW : Thank you for making the time to speak with me today. I want to talk about human interest stuff but I do want to start with a little bit on the election in June. I wonder, did you think going into that that there was a possibility of holding on to 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 really good chance because of fifteen 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.

AW : You say you would have stepped down if you didn’t think you could win; so you didn’t feel some obligation to carry through and leave a clean slate for the next person?

KW : I did. I felt an obligation to carry on, but if there had been overwhelming evidence that I had no possibility of winning then I would have thought more closely about stepping down. But there was no evidence of that. Yes, there was evidence about concern about our policies and a government that had been in office for a long time. But I made the decision that I believed was the best decision for the party and that was the best I could do, and the best advice I could get.

AW : And did your strategy change, or can you tell me how your strategy changed with all the turmoil within the Conservative Party?

KW : Well, we were preparing for an election against Patrick Brown, obviously. And that was certainly going to be a different kind of debate because he was trying to bring his party to the centre. We were centre left, I mean admittedly I was to the left of centre, but I still believe that we occupied more of that centre ground and so I believe that our campaign, if it had been against Patrick Brown, would have been more of a nuanced campaign. I think that with Doug Ford, all of a sudden, we were in this very polarised world and it was one of the things our campaign director David Herle had said was a big challenge, you know, that we had to shift gear. And then the NDP became the place where Liberal votes got parked, largely, we think, because of the fifteen years, because of my leadership – whatever – that was the dynamic, we hadn’t expected that.

AW : Do you think you may have had a better shot, initially at least, given the change of Conservative leader?

KW : I don’t know. What Ford did was he tapped into this kind of very far-right populism that we’re seeing south of the border, that we’re seeing in Alberta now, and so I think we have, all of us who are moderate progressives, who are centrists, whether it’s Red Tories, whether it’s Liberals, whoever it is, we have a lot of questions that we have to ask ourselves about, how do we frame the arguments about governments role in people’s lives in the face of a populist agenda that basically feeds on anger and disenchantment, and lack of evidence. You know, the solutions that Doug Ford or Donald Trump, put forward aren’t rooted in any evidence, they aren’t rooted in any kind of due process, they’re just the whim of the moment and that’s a very, very hard thing to tackle.

AW : But they seem to appeal to a significant segment of the population.

KW : They do. And they appeal to people who feel angry and who want solutions to be simple. And I understand that. I understand that we want things to be solved quickly. But Climate Change, building infrastructure, an aging population and health care, new technology and education for the 21st Century, there are no easy answers to those things, you know? And, no matter how many times somebody like Doug Ford says there are easy answers, there just aren’t. And so, what happens is you get these policies or slogans, as I was calling them during the election campaign, like ‘A Buck a Beer’ or ‘Cancel the Sex-Ed Curriculum’ as though somehow those are the things that are going to make people’s lives better and, they really don’t. And it’s unfortunate but that’s what captures people’s imagination. And the media feeds on that. The media gives a microphone to that kind of sloganeering. Not in a malicious way, but just because that’s their job.

AW : I mentioned that when I saw you at the Terry Fox Run in September you looked relaxed and happy.

KW : Yeah.

AW : So 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 having now my own car, being in control more of my time and being able to attend to those things.

AW : So you weren’t able to drive over the last five years?

KW : I haven’t driven for five years.

AW : Wow!

KW : Yeah. 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.

AW : It must be liberating.

KW : It is liberating, you know. I can go for a run now, whenever I want and I don’t have to let anyone know where I’m going.

AW : Can I ask you about that just while we’re on it: I’ve seen you in Mount Hope Cemetery multiple times … where are some of your routes?

KW : Oh, I have a bunch of different ones. So, often in the morning I will just stick to the well-lit roads, especially when it’s dark. So I will run up Mount Pleasant to St. Leonard’s and go over to Duplex and do that loop, or I’ll go up to Lawrence and go through Wanless Park and come back down. The other day I went up Mt. Pleasant to Lawrence and into Sunnybrook and come around through the cemetery and back, because I live on Keewatin and you can’t get to Keewatin from the cemetery, so you have to go around and come back so you get an extra kilometre and a bit. And, on the weekends, when I can go when it’s light. I’ll go into the park. I don’t run in the park in the dark, I just don’t do that, I never have. So I’ll go through the ravine and sometimes I’ll go along Glenvale and go in by Lyndhurst. There are lots of great runs around here, and lots of hills!

AW : which is good!

KW : yeah. I was going to do and I was training for the Scotiabank Half Marathon, but I hurt my hip. It’s okay now, but I had to stop training. I did a nine mile run and it just … my son and I were going to do it, my hip seized up. But, anyway, maybe next fall I’ll do a half marathon.

AW : OK. Back to the election. So, 181 votes. Very close. So, I don’t know if this is the right way to put this, but, would it have been cleaner if you had lost? Or are you happy to have won?

KW : No, I’m happy to have won. I was asked that question yesterday by some folks at a luncheon and I said, ‘you know, I’d had enough humiliation. It was nice not to have that extra piece of humiliation, and to be able to continue to serve the people of Don Valley West.’ And, again, what happened in Don Valley West, because, as you know, this is a riding where it’s the Conservatives and the liberals who tee off. But the Conservatives didn’t get any more votes than they got in 2014. It was our votes that went to the NDP. And that had happened to Rob Oliphant too a few years ago. So, I believe that what happened was that people were fed up, they parked their votes and I believe that part of the rebuild of the Liberal Party is going to be to get those votes back …

AW : from the NDP;

KW : yeah. And I don’t mean by saying that that we own those votes. It’s to convince those people that we are the party that they believed we were and that our policies meet their expectations.

AW : OK, that’s great. Let’s talk about Leaside. So, you’ve been fifteen years as the MPP for Don Valley West, including Leaside. I’m interested in how – well, I’m interested in anything you might want to say about that – but I’m curious about how representing the people of Leaside differs from representing the people from Thorncliffe say, or from Lawrence Park, or from other parts of the riding.

KW : Let me give you I think a really illustrative example. So, 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 had also had conversations with the Coca-Cola folks and I wish we’d been able to keep the plant. We couldn’t, it wasn’t going to stay, you don’t have control over those private sector decisions. But I wanted jobs on that site. For me that was the most important because that is the number one concern of people in Thorncliffe Park is to have access to jobs. A lot of foreign-trained professionals who come or even not professionals, but people who need jobs that 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 two hundred 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 me more traffic in this area; we are now part of the downtown, we are not a suburb, we’re not a small town. And I know there are people who would like to think of us in that way but I’ve lived in North Toronto since 1981 and it’s much more ‘downtown’ than it was in 1981. So I understand the sentimentality of that past but we have to recognise that there is a huge change that we’ve undergone. 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.

AW : Did you have some hand in getting Costco to commit to hire locally?

KW : We were very much a part of those conversations. I wouldn’t say that we were the prime mover but we definitely made it clear that we were concerned about their impact on the community. I also wanted to see the Costco development spur better development in the plaza because that plaza has become a bit sad. And so that’s one of the reasons that when I was in government we were working on getting a medical hub there, and I’m going to continue to advance that as the MPP. But that whole area needs to be more vital in terms of the quality of the services that available to the community.

AW : And what about the future of the employment lands east of Laird?

KW : One of the most challenging issues that over the years that we’ve confronted, and again it’s this bridge between Leaside and Thorncliffe, is the whole future of the Leaside Business Park, and what it will look like. There’s a tension between the commercial development and the increase in traffic along Laird in particular, and the desire on the part of some people to have more heavy industry to come back to that park. It’s very hard for heavy industry to come back into that park because of the location and the traffic, right? So I don’t think we’ve found the right solution at this point but it’s an interesting conundrum because it literally, physically bridges the two communities and it is not always the same perspective on either side of the business park.

AW : Are there any anecdotes or stories about Leaside particularly, from your time, any successes? The arena, for example, if you want to talk about that …

KW : You know, the very first issue, and this was an issue before I became the MPP, actually there are two, there’s the institutional lands, where the Donwoods was, and the arena, and in both cases the provincial government had a role to play. In the arena the provincial government had a role to play in getting out of the way and letting that land get freed up and it was a real introduction for me in working with the other levels of government to get that land freed up. We went down with the executive from the arena board and talked with folks from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing trying to negotiate that. And I felt that my intervention at that stage was helpful because it sped up a little bit the availability of that land. The institutional lands that was a different kind of battle because that was about retaining the land for institutional. And in that case I was working with John Godfrey, the federal member, and with the Ministry of Health, George Smitherman was the Minister of Health, and we managed to work with the community, work with those levels of government and guarantee that that land would be retained as health care land, and it is …

AW : Bellwood.

KW : Bellwood is in there. It’s a really good partnership. And one of the things I did was I connected with Sunnybrook because Sunnybrook was, I thought, the logical partner to retain that land because they are going to continue to need more land, and in fact they are partnering with Bellwood and they’ve got programs there. So those felt like successes. But they were about community development. And one of the things about the Leaside community and I’ll end with this. But the Leaside community is very, very willing to roll up their sleeves, pitch in, and work to resolve a problem. And so many people in the community have the experience, and the ability to be part of an organisation that would resolve issues, so it’s a pleasure, even when we don’t agree, we’re all working hard.

AW : Leaside has a unique sense of community about it that other areas maybe don’t. Do you have an idea why that is?

KW : I don’t know. I think the Borough of East York had a very particular personality. They were little and Leaside was part of that. I remember when I was a young mom and my kids were in the Toronto Board of Education, and we were engaged in a pitched battle with Mike Harris’s government on education, and I would go to East York schools to meet with other parents, I remember the feeling of this is a small community, even though it was quite a big community it had a sense of smallness about it because people knew each other. A lot of people had grown up in Leaside or East York and had come back to live. And that’s true to this day, Leasiders come back and try to live in their community. So I think it’s got those characteristics about it.

AW : Are there any issues that you’re working on now in Leaside 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.

AW : Is there a provincial role in that?

KW : Well, yes, 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 that 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. I also think the development along Eglinton and making sure we get that right is going to be an ongoing issue, not an issue that’s going to be resolved in the next six months, that’s going to take time. So that’s one that I certainly, when the municipal election’s over, will be working with the community on. The other one is the distribution of kids in schools so there are schools that are overcrowded and this is an issue that overlaps with North Toronto because you’ve got kids in Northlea, kids at Eglinton Public School and I know that Shelley Laskin – I saw her yesterday – and we had started to talk with the city councillors and school trustee, provincial rep, before the election about how we can have a good plan for kids in the North Toronto/Leaside area for distribution of population and good strong, well-kept school buildings. I think that’s another issue that’s going to continue.

AW : And to accommodate all the new growth …

KW : the new growth, exactly.

AW : OK, two other things I want to touch on are family and outside interests, and then also, next steps. So, you have three children . . .

KW : I have three children. I have a son, Christopher, who is 38 – unbelievable – it makes me feel so old! My first two kids were born in the Netherlands. I lived in Holland for three years from 1979 to 1981.

AW : What were you doing there?

KW : Well, 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, but 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,

AW : and cycling,

KW : 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.

AW : amazing!

KW : 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.

AW : With Jaime,

KW : yeah, he does digital campaigning. 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.

AW : They’re all within range of Toronto.

KW : Yes, they all are, that’s right.

AW : That’s great.

KW : Yeah. There was a time when none of them were. But now they all are, they’ve all sort of come back. And then my grandchildren are nine, and seven and about to be five.

AW : And they’re in Orangeville?

KW : They’re in Orangeville.

AW : But you see them 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.

AW : Outstanding.

KW : Yeah, it’s very fun.

AW : 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 but usually we’re in Ontario – so, Killarney or Algonquin – so that is something that I look forward to. I love reading mysteries. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Linwood Barclay?

AW : He’s a Toronto guy.

KW : He 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! And I’m always reading some political non-fiction and a mystery at the same time. Louise Penny is another one of my favourites.

AW : She’s from Quebec?

KW : Yes, a Canadian author.

AW : On the 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. I’m reading the one by Frum, and actually 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 that he had.

AW : And he’s doing the Munk Debate on November 2nd, which I’m not going to be able to get to …

KW : Yeah, I’m not going to be able to do that either. The other thing that I’m very interested in, this summer I read Seven Fallen Feathers, by Tanya Talaga; what made me think of it is she’s doing the . . .

AW : Massey Lectures.

KW : Massey Lectures on the 30th of October and I’m going to hear her. It’s a very disturbing book but it’s a very important book I think.

AW : Is there any solution? That may not be the right word but it there anything we can do to mitigate that issue?

KW : Well, we are doing things, and I think there are solutions. But it takes really committed attention over a long period of time. So, you know, we were in the process of changing the curriculum in the schools. I think that’s a fundamental, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I think it was their number one set of recommendations, was teaching our history differently, and so we were in the process of doing that, of changing the curriculum not just around residential schools, although that’s a big part of it, but around treaties, around the first contact, all of that. We just have to teach differently. We have to have better cooperation between the federal and provincial government. One of the frustrations I had when I was premier was that on the water issue for example on reserve, at any given time, of the 134 reserves – well, there are actually about 200 reserves but there are 134 First Nations – we would have 20 to 40 of them that were on boil water orders. And it wasn’t always the same 20, it wasn’t always the same 40, it rotated. And what we needed was, we needed to have the federal funding and the provincial expertise, because we had the water expertise, and there needed to be a one stop shop troubleshooting. And we were getting there. I hope this government continues. Because you can put in a brand new water system but, if there’s nobody to maintain it, and there isn’t ongoing training on reserve, or there isn’t the trouble-shooter, when it breaks down it just sits there. I visited many reserves where you had state-of-the-art water treatment but it was sitting there because it had broken down and they had nobody to repair it.

So that co-ordination on water, on education, on health care is absolutely critical. So there are solutions. Honestly, we get sidetracked by a couple of things in this province. We get sidetracked by sensational stories, and I am not saying that the Grassy Narrow situation isn’t serious, it absolutely is serious. And we put $85 million into fixing the mercury and it has to be dealt with. But that’s one reserve. There are over 120 more reserves that need attention and need support to be self-governing. And the provincial government of the day and the federal government of the day need to work with the First Nations leadership on practical issues.

I read an article … I’m sorry but this is a passion of mine; I’m sorry I’m going on … but I read an article the other day and the headline was something like, ‘How do we restart the Ring of Fire?’ The Ring of Fire doesn’t need a restart. There is an agreement with two First Nations to build a road with the Ring of Fire. What has to happen is leadership at the provincial level, and at the Federal level too quite frankly, need to continue to meet with the Matawa First Nation. There’s a lot of conversations that have to keep happening so that the leadership of those nine First Nations that are closest to that chromite deposit feel that they are having input into the environmental assessments, that they are part of the economic development of the roads, because those roads are of course going to be about getting the minerals out of the Ring of Fire, but they’re also going to be about First Nations people being able to drive to get health care and being able to drive to get supplies. There’s an economic imperative not just a resource imperative. And with the Climate Change we’re dealing with and the fact that winter roads don’t last as long, because winter roads are ice, you’ve got to have more of these all-weather roads. So I think that there are solutions, but we get distracted by single issues, like the horrible things that have happened at Grassy Narrows and we get distracted in a conversation about rights and jurisdiction. And those are very important subjects; rights and jurisdictions are very important and they have to be the subject of ongoing discussions. But we could spend the rest of our lifetime and our children’s lifetime talking about those things, if we don’t focus on the well-being of children, the treatment of FASD, the ability of kids to get an education on reserve and then make a transition to off-reserve because that’s what the Seven Feathers book is about, it’s about those kids coming off reserve into Thunder Bay and being lost. If we don’t focus on those things, which really, at the end of the day, don’t have anything to do with what happened four hundred years ago, I mean they do, but they …

AW : they’re practical,

KW : they’re practical, immediate concerns that have to be addressed. So, if we let ourselves get drawn into a solely jurisdictional, constitutional fight, we’re going to lose. And it’s one of my fears with what’s going on with the federal government right now is that they’ve kind of become captive to that discussion, and what we really need to be doing is having this other discussion. And there’s a – I’m going to say this Allan – there’s a gender analysis of this. Often the women in the community want to talk about the wellbeing of the children, because they have the responsibility for caring for them. It’s a much more cerebral conversation to talk about treaty rights and jurisdiction. And it’s not that that’s not fascinating, but both have to happen. You can’t do one at the expense of the other. And that’s often what happens.

AW : Excellent, thank you. Now, one last thing I do want to ask. So, next steps.

KW : You mean for me?

AW : Yeah, so are you planning to serve out your term? Or to run again?

KW : I am committed to the people of Don Valley West. I’m committed to doing my job. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen in one year, two years, three years … I just don’t know. I had a friend who when I was a young mom, would say, ‘What’s your five year plan?’ And I’d say, ‘I’m working on what I’m having for dinner.’ What are we making for dinner for these children? So, I don’t know. But whatever I do I want to continue to help and make a difference. I feel that the experience that I’ve had is so rich and I’ve been so blessed that I want to be able to continue to share that. And to inspire other people to pick up the torch, whether it’s in the Liberal Party or whether it’s in the broader community. Both are critical to me.

AW : That’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to add for the audience of the people of Leaside?

KW : I guess the only thing I would say is that given the experience I’ve had for the last fifteen years, there are people who want to focus on what happened in the election and, are you pessimistic about the future? I have spent so much time with young people, so much time with inspirational older people who have ideas and are working hard and are creating strong communities, I can’t help but feel optimistic you know. You go into any small town in this province, you go into any neighbourhood in this city, and you’ll find people who are every day doing things that are changing people’s lives whether they are working with disabled people or they’re hiring young kids who have fallen through the cracks and training them to be ironworkers; the gamut is so wide and that’s the strength of Ontario and that’s what makes me optimistic about the future.

AW : Wonderful. Thank you very much.

About Allan Williams 37 Articles
Allan Williams is a regular contributor to Leaside Life.