Kathleen Wynne Elected Liberal Party Leader and will be Ontario’s First Woman Premier

The Ontario Liberal leadership campaign concluded today with a dramatic third ballot showdown between contenders Sandra Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne. Wynne emerged as the victor on the final ballot with 1,150 convention delegates to Pupatello’s 866. The head-to-head final ballot materialized over the course of the afternoon with Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy throwing their support behind Wynne, and Harinder Takhar lining up behind Pupatello. With Dalton McGuinty’s successor now chosen, StrategyCorp takes a look at the new Liberal leader and soon-to-be Premier – Kathleen Wynne. Although Kathleen Wynne released policy papers addressing the economy, education and health and social services, her leadership campaign focused on two principal messages.  The first centered on fiscal and social responsibility, and stressed that the Progressive Conservatives do not have a corner on fiscal responsibility, and that the NDP do not have a corner on compassion. The second emphasized her perceived ability to achieve consensus and her desire to find ways to govern by working with the opposition.  While this message was initially misinterpreted as a signall of a potential coalition with the New Democrats, Wynne clarified that she was prepared to work with either party to find common ground but not at the expense of her principles. At the beginning of the campaign Wynne was generally viewed as being the leading representative of the left faction of the Liberal Party.  During the past few months she has tried to broaden her campaign by tying her messages on health care, transportation, education and social issues to the province’s economy.  She has stated that she is committed to adopting the deficit reduction targets set out by the McGuinty government. As a former member of the Treasury Board of Cabinet, Wynne has already been part of the many kinds of discussions that will take place in the future, but she has also said that fiscal responsibility is not just about cuts, but also about increasing productivity, including investing in infrastructure, education, and targeted direct investments.  It is likely that she will want to demonstrate her economic credentials early on in her mandate but this will need to be balanced with any discussions she may have with the opposition to formulate a budget that will find enough support to be passed. Wynne received significant support from Cabinet and caucus, including:

Cabinet Supporters Caucus Supporters
  • Glen Murray
  • Deb Matthews
  • John Gerretsen
  • Ted McMeekin
  • Linda Jeffrey
  • Michael Coteau
  • Reza Moridi
  • Liz Sandals
  • Mario Sergio
  • David Zimmer

Immediate Priorities for the Newly-Elected Liberal Leader

Kathleen Wynne made her readiness to govern a cornerstone of her campaign. Her slogan, “Running to Govern, Ready to Win” was designed to highlight the perception she was better-suited to working with the New Democrast and Progressive Conservatives, and that she is also in a better position to win the next general election.  She also used her seat in the Legislature and readiness to return to office as a key differentiator with her closest rival, Sandra Pupatello. Wynne will now turn her focus to the business of forming a government. As such, she has several immediate priorities that must be accomplished in little time.

She has publicly committed to asking the Lieutenant Governor to reconvene the Legislature on February 19th, the scheduled start of the Spring Legislative Season. Meeting this date would require her to choose a new Cabinet (including having herself sworn in as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), craft a Throne Speech, and assemble a preliminary legislative agenda in the next 23 days.  The Throne Speech is a mandatory matter of confidence, and it is possible that the opposition parties (notably the New Democrats) will seek concessions from the new Premier, or vote against this measure and bring down the new government, thereby necessitating a general election.
She has also promised to introduce a provincial Budget this Spring.  Such a commitment means that, in the coming weeks, the new Finance Minister would need to launch Pre-Budget Consultations. It also means that the government would face a second vote of confidence in the legislature. The business of governing and recalling the Legislature so quickly also means that the new Premier will be reaching out maintly to the New Democrats to shore up her support. She has said she will “invite the two Opposition leaders to meet” with her to discuss ways of working together.  This will quickly put to test the new Premier’s perceived ability to forge a consensus with her opponents.
Wynne also committed in writing to hold a Cabinet meeting in Northern Ontario within her first 30 days in office, which is likely to occur before the Legislature resumes.

Transition at Queen’s Park

Technically-speaking, the newly-elected Liberal Leader will not become the Premier-designate until after Premier McGuinty visits the Lieutenant Governor and formally resigns.  It would be customary for the newly-elected Liberal Leader to accompany the outgoing Premier to this meeting (as Ernie Eves did with outgoing Premier Mike Harris), but she could also visit the Lieutenant Governor separately after Premier McGuinty has resigned.  During the meeting, the Lieutenant Governor will ask her to form a new government.  The new Liberal leader will become the Premier-designate at this moment.  She will not officially become Premier until after a subsequent swearing-in ceremony is held.  The Lieutenant Governor will likely also ask about her intentions, so this meeting will almost certainly include discussion about when the legislature will return.
Following a Saturday night celebration, the new Liberal Leader and her key advisors will also face significant challenges and a steep learning curve.  The public service has been busy preparing for transition and will have prepared a number of key briefings.  Among the first will be an update on the state of the province’s finances, an update on the province’s economic-planning cycle (known as “results-based plans”), which outline each ministry’s spending, cost-savings exercises and where spending pressures are likely to be, and Cabinet Office’s review of the most-pressing decisions that were not addressed in the last few months of the McGuinty government.
In addition to the large number of policy briefings there is the need to make a number of significant staffing decisions.  Most prominent among these discussions will be debates about who will be in Cabinet and who will fill the key Cabinet positions.  There will also be discussions regarding  the nature of Cabinet, how many ministries will there be, what will be the key mandates for each ministry and how many Cabinet committees will there be and what are their focus.  The Premier-elect and her key advisors will also have to make key decisions regarding her staff in the Premier’s Office, including naming a Chief of Staff and people to lead her policy, communications and operations teams.

StrategyCorp Backgrounder

Getting Back to Business at Queen’s Park: The Return of the Legislature

When the legislature resumes sitting, the new Premier and government will face a number of political and procedural challenges.  Dependant on the make-up of Cabinet, there may be an election for a new Speaker.  If the status quo remains, the Speech from the Throne will be the first piece of business for the new legislative session.

The debate on the Speech from the Throne must last 12 hours. While it has become practice during the past ten years to table a budget before the end of March that timing is not required by law.  It is important to note that motions of non-confidence can be introduced at any time, and the first two natural opportunities will be the votes on the Throne Speech and the Budget. Lastly, the government must also introduce a motion to establish the committees of the legislature within 10 sessional days.  It is important to note, though, that in the last session, while a motion was introduced within 10 days, it ultimately took close to five months for committees to be operational.

What’s Next for the Official Opposition

As all bills and House business died on the order paper after Premier McGuinty asked the Lieutenant Governor to prorogue the legislature, we anticipate that two key motions could be offered by the opposition following the introduction of the Throne Speech:

  1. The question of privilege raised by the Progressive Conservatives against Energy Minister Chris Bentley regarding the cancellation of the Mississauga gas plant; and,
  2. A potential motion to establish a committee to review ORNGE.

Given the nature of questions of privilege, a number of procedural hurdles must be met in order to proceed.  First, the Speaker must determine whether or not a prima facie case of privilege has occurred.  If the Speaker determines that a case has been met, the matter is then turned back to the members of the legislature to address.  Last year, both of these hurdles were satisfied, and we anticipate that the same will occur when the Legislative Assembly returns.  In addition, the order from the last session to the government to produce all of the documents did not die on the order paper, so this will not create a delay. Prior to prorogation, the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs was in the midst of reviewing ORNGE.  We anticipate that either opposition party will introduce a motion, whether as a question of privilege or otherwise, to establish this review again.  If this motion is brought as a question of privilege, the same rules as noted above will apply.

It is also possible that the opposition parties will forgo the opportunity to introduce either of these motions and simply vote to bring down the minority government on a vote of non-confidence following the Speech from the Throne.  If that occurs, Ontarians will be going to the polls very shortly. How This Could Affect the New Government.

Until any questions of privilege are addressed, they have precedence over all other business, including Question Period, deferred votes, routine proceedings, and private members’ public business.  There is no time limit for questions of privilege, so business, including the debate on the Throne Speech and the introduction of the Budget, could be stalled for a significant amount of time.

Policy Implications

While the new Liberal Leader will find herself in a sea of political uncertainty associated with a minority government, a prorogued legislature, and a Liberal Party that is approaching 10 years in power, they will be facing a defined set of public policy challenges.  Indeed, no matter who the Premier of Ontario is a year from now, he or she will survey a policy landscape marked by several major points of decision. Finances The most significant challenge is, of course, the effort to bring the Province’s finances into balance.  Currently, the Liberals have taken some of the difficult decisions required to help eliminate the province’s fiscal gap over the next five years.  This means that – beyond the teachers’ wages episode, harness racing close-out and major asset deployment (e.g., OLG’s initiation of a Toronto casino), more tough decisions lie ahead.  The Progressive Conservatives appear to be making a genuine effort at aligning their policy program with these fiscal realities.  The civil service has prepared for the incoming Premier to begin addressing these decisions on behalf of the Liberal Party.  The NDP’s process of coming to grips with these challenges has only been hinted at in a recent speech by Leader Andrea Horwath, where she signaled a willingness to tackle the issue in part through corporate tax increases. Energy The complex energy file remains a serious challenge for any Ontario government.  The immediate issue of completing Feed-in-Tariff projects will soon give way to larger challenges.  These include major decisions regarding nuclear renewal, uncompetitive rates putting pressure on Ontario manufacturing, the importation of shale gas, and the current government’s plans for emphasizing power storage.  Another key area will be electricity conservation technologies.  All of these should be placed against the backdrop of the province’s temporary energy surplus, which could easily distort medium- to long-term policy priorities.  One other key issue to watch is the future of the province’s fragmented local distribution companies, which have been recommended for consolidation in a report submitted in the last days of the McGuinty administration. Transportation and Land Use The long-running debate over transit in Toronto has now spilled into a wider set of issues regarding the overall transportation situation in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.  The province’s ambitious plans for a $50 billion region-wide transit upgrade are now touching directly upon critical questions regarding new revenue tools to fund new developments.  As well, some of the larger issues surrounding transit – such as road construction and overall commercial and residential development patterns – are putting pressure on existing policy frameworks, including the forthcoming preparation of the 2015 provincial Growth Plan.  Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has gone so far as to flag this issue as the number-one challenge for improving productivity in the province.  The quality of response from any of the political parties has not been particularly strong to date, but it appears that the period of being safely able to keep this issue on the political back burner may be drawing to a close. Health Care The sprawling and very politically-sensitive health care file will be one of the critical arenas in which the success or failure of the Liberal government’s fiscal program plays out.  One of the major dynamics that is likely to continue under any government scenario is a gathering regionalization of the system.  The PCs intend to accelerate this trend with the aim of flattening administration and reducing costs, while the Liberals are so far favouring an apparently less-dramatic shift.  The NDP are expected to release a health policy paper shortly that will likely play up issues of access and provider wages. Education While collective bargaining issues in elementary and secondary education have dominated the headlines, other significant pressures are reshaping the education landscape and will confront any Ontario government once established in office.  In elementary and secondary education, the streaming in of new technology is a key driver of change.  On the capital side, the province’s aging school infrastructure faces a deferred maintenance challenge of near crisis-proportions that must be addressed.  In post-secondary education, a significant transformation, begun under the McGuinty government, will continue, although perhaps under a different banner.  A movement in higher learning is gaining momentum across the global post-secondary sector, in which digitally-enabled learning is posing a serious cost challenge to the traditional ivy-clad delivery model with its high cost structure. Taken together, the next government’s approach to these challenges may very well amount to a basic restructuring of the Ontario government and its role in the life of the Province.  As Ontario seeks to leverage its economic assets and remain one of the world’s premiere regional economies, achieving this restructuring, and getting the role of a restructured government right will be the core task of the province’s leadership.  The requirements of leading this change in a very volatile and unsteady political environment will put all of the province’s leaders, especially the Premier, to the test.

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