Kathleen Wynne was elected Premier of Ontario and Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party during an exciting and drama-filled delegated convention this past weekend. Wynne accurately noted during her victory speech “believe it or not, this was the easy part”. Her main challenges going forward will be building consensus amongst members of her own caucus and opposition parties, as well as differentiating herself from outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty and defining the agenda for her government. H+K’s government relations team provides analysis on these challenges and what they will mean for Ontario.
Why the Party went with Wynne – Wynne ran a well-organized campaign and convention. She combined personal appeals directly to party members with an efficient ground game. She delivered a well-received, passionate speech on convention day, proving that speeches do matter. – Her willingness to bring the legislature back immediately proved an important consideration. Many senior Liberals, including eventual queen-maker Charles Sousa, indicated that a return to governing was preferential.
First steps – Wynne has already spoken with opposition leaders Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath. This is consistent with her campaign promise to forge a conciliatory relationship and reach out to her rivals. – Wynne has also met with senior Liberal campaign staff on the state of campaign readiness. With an election possible at any time, readiness will be a top priority. – Early on, look for Wynne to differentiate her approach from that of the McGuinty government, signaling she is forging her own agenda. – One difference will be on local consultation. During the campaign, Wynne noted that on topics such as green energy, she would encourage more local decision-making. It remains to be seen what kind of shape this might take.
– Wynne is expected to announce a significantly overhauled cabinet as early as this week. While this cabinet will contain new faces, Wynne will have to include caucus members who supported her rivals in the leadership race and will need to mend any divisions that may exist.
– Deb Matthews was very successful in organizing for Wynne at the convention. She will have her choice of portfolio and is expected to remain at Health and Long-Term Care. In the unlikely event of a change in minister, there will still be continuity from a policy perspective as the current health policy agenda was endorsed by Wynne during the campaign.
– With the departure of Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Wynne will need to select a new provincial treasurer. Charles Sousa is seen as a good fit for this role given his private-sector experience and convention support, but this is by no means a lock.
– During the campaign, Wynne promised to appoint herself Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs minister if elected Premier. This would not be the first time a Premier also assumed another ministerial portfolio, and recognizes the importance of regaining support in rural Ontario for Liberals.
– Another contender for a cabinet spot is Party president Yasir Naqvi, who successfully ran the convention and in doing so stayed independent, helping him rise above any rancor.
New Premier’s Office
– Wynne has tasked former minister and MPP for Nipissing Monique Smith to head her transition team.
– The transition team will make recommendations on senior Premier’s Office staff, cabinet ministers, and other political staff. Their role is to help ease the move from one leader to the next. Speech from the Throne
– The first order of business for the next legislative session is a Speech from the Throne. This is required in order to open Parliament and will likely be held on February 19. The Speech will be a pivotal opportunity for Wynne to lay out her legislative agenda.
– While the speech is not a piece of legislation in and of itself, the legislature will be required to vote on a motion of support for the content in it. This is a confidence vote. Should both opposition parties vote to defeat the motion, the province would immediately head to a general election.
THE VIEW FROM THE OPPOSITION
As Wynne attempts to differentiate herself from her predecessor, the opposition’s first priority will be to link the controversies that plagued the McGuinty government to her. There is likely to be little to no honeymoon for the new Premier.
– The PCs will continue to release new policy white papers on a number of topics, focusing generally on jobs and the economy.
– The election of Wynne provides a greater opportunity for PCs to differentiate themselves from the government in appealing to right of centre voters. Defining this difference has been a problem in previous elections.
– Hudak will continue to stress his desire to cooperate with the government. However, his strategy will be to propose policies that are unlikely to be supported, then positioning the government as unresponsive to his ideas.
– Horwath called today for a public inquiry into cancelled power plants, her first request to incoming Premier Wynne.
– Horwath has ruled out any formal agreement with the Liberals, including a coalition. Instead, she will focus on securing clearly articulated ‘wins’ in exchange for keeping the minority parliament going. Horwath will offer support on a case-by-case basis.
– Look for negotiations to be signaled publicly in the coming weeks as the NDP and Liberal leaders look for common ground and bottom lines for the 2013 Budget.
– Wynne is a progressive woman, which may diminish Horwath’s distinctiveness, especially in Toronto where the Liberals and NDP will be closely fighting for support.