It felt strange to be having a conversation with the Premier of Ontario, with Kathleen Wynne being driven along the 401 between Cobourg and Toronto and me sitting in my living room, but that was how we managed to have what was, technically, an interview.
We talked about old times and new.
I first met Wynne when she was getting to know the Leaside neighbourhood while preparing for the 2003 election. I was part of the crew knocking on doors and introducing her to people I knew on the North Leaside streets she was canvassing.
It was a real eye-opener for me to see how she engaged in conversation with people she had just met, when my style while door-knocking for myself (as a councillor for East York), was to say my name, hand over a brochure and maybe get in the sentence that “I hope you’ll vote for me on election day,” before I headed for the next house.
She maintains that conversational style to this day, as many of you now have seen. She won that 2003 election as the MPP for Don Valley West (which includes Leaside) and still retains that seat after two further election wins.
The constituency office for the riding is on the main floor of the Suomi-Koti building at Eglinton and Laird. It’s harder these days for her to actually be in the office, but she “hopes that people in Don Valley West will see that this is my base and that I will continue to connect.”
She does her best to maintain these local connections, such as being part of a recent Leaside-based Earth Day clean-up on a rainy Saturday.
The Premier also stressed how important it is that communities be involved in decision-making. “Community input is so important. Without community, best decisions don’t get made. You need to pay close attention up front for best results.”
This was said while we were talking about Metrolinx and its huge impact on the Leaside community. She stressed that she is expecting a “good community process” with Metrolinx, and also praised Leaside for being an organized community that pays attention to issues and makes sure that our voice is heard.
Over the years, there have been many local planning issues where the ultimate decision was made by the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). We’ve won a few – most recently, maintaining the Talbot apartments and preventing the expansion of a private school on the old municipal council building on McRae at Randolph.
But it’s not an easy, or a cheap process, and often an unsuccessful one from a neighbourhood perspective.
In her most recent previous cabinet post as minister of municipal affairs and housing, Wynne had put together a working group of developers, planners, representatives from residents’ groups and builders to discuss possible reforms to the OMB.
She also pointed out that the new(ish) City of Toronto Act gives the Toronto the ability to set up its own appeal system, which has not yet been discussed.
And when you see her, ask her how she enjoyed the murder mystery book recently picked up at Sleuth of Baker Street on Millwood.