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Readying for battle


Readying for battle

Kathleen Wynne knows tough political fights are around the corner
“Do I see the world the same  way as Mayor Ford? Absolutely not,” Kathleen Wynne says with a subtle laugh, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together.”

That search for compromise seems to be the main marker of Wynne’s first few months as minister of municipal affairs and housing and aboriginal affairs, where her party’s social agenda has clashed with the slash-and-burn approach to social services and the public realm favoured by the Ford administration at Toronto’s City Hall.

But Wynne is no stranger to opposition. Through electoral campaigns where opponents labelled her an “extremist lesbian,” to being pitted against Progressive Conservative leader John Tory, to the 2011 campaign in which the PC candidate in a neighbouring riding sounded alarms over her “radical agenda,” Wynne has maintained a dignified poise that has earned her the respect of voters and the opportunity to cooperate with potential opponents when in power.

Despite her obvious differences of opinion with Toronto’s mayor, as minister of transportation last year she was able to renegotiate an $8-billion transit plan that scrapped four planned light-rail transit lines spanning the city’s inner suburbs in favour of a new plan that put a truncated LRT line completely underground along Eglinton Ave and allowed the mayor a free hand to explore options to build a subway along Sheppard Ave without provincial money.

The negotiated agreement allowed both the McGuinty Liberals and Ford to claim victory on the file, but it appears to have also given opponents of the mayor’s plan time to organize support for reviving the original plan.

“We were in a situation that the municipal election had just happened, the mayor had run on a very clear mandate to make some changes to the transit plan that was in place, and I felt that it was my responsibility to work with him,” Wynne says. “I have a deep respect for the autonomy of municipal governments. One of the reasons that I got involved in politics was because of the disrespect the previous government showed municipalities.”

Wynne says that a political career wasn’t a lifelong plan, but her involvement in public life goes back to her high school days, when she served on her Richmond Hill high school’s student council. Over the years, she’s also found herself working as an activist and organizer both for her local North Toronto community and for the queer community.

She served as a board member for Ontario’s LGBT Youth Line and speaks fondly about the fundraisers she used to help organize for it, including the lesbian MAD for Dancing parties.

“Women used to come from all over for that. There wasn’t anything else for them at the time,” she says. “We raised more than $50,000.”

Wynne came out as a lesbian at age 37, after 13 years of marriage to a man with whom she has three children, now aged 31, 30 and 27.

“We went through a transition,” she says. “It was a tumultuous time, but I think it was done in a way that we’ve been able to retain those relationships.

“We co-parented. We [Wynne and her partner, Jane] had a house in North Toronto, and my ex-husband lived in a house with an adjoining garden. So the kids were back and forth between the two houses.”

When Wynne’s children were school-aged, she started getting involved in parent-teacher associations and sought election as a school trustee. She was defeated in 1994 but ran again in 2000 and won, after a tumultuous campaign in which opponents first gave her the “extremist lesbian” label.

“I laugh, because I think that kind of hate mongering is just so counterproductive,” she says. “I have led a pretty traditional life, even though I have some impatience about some of our social structures. I think that the best thing I can do in the face of that is to confront it, to be as open as I can, to empower other people to be open.”

Wynne was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2003. After stints in education and transport, she is now tasked with maintaining her government’s agenda in the face of pressures from conservative municipal governments and from the province’s swelling budget deficit.

“The most important thing we can do as a provincial government is stay true to our principles and to continue to work with municipalities to provide the resources that we think are important,” she says. “When a young mom goes into a community centre to take her young toddler for a swimming lesson, it’s not really important to her who provides the funding; what’s important is that the pool is clean and safe and there is a swim instructor there and that those services are available. It’s my hope that all municipal leaders will pay close attention to the needs of their communities.”

With the upcoming Drummond report rumoured to recommend cuts as deep as 30 percent from all ministries except health and education, Wynne’s job could soon include fighting to save those very services.

“Those programs need to stay in place. We’re going to fight tooth and nail for them, and because they’re interjurisdictional, they’re critical to communities,” she says. “The reality is that we had an economic downturn and there are going to have to be some changes that we make. I can’t predict what those will be at this point.”

With these challenges ahead of her, Wynne doesn’t see herself leaving public life anytime soon. “I’m going to work as long as I’m making a contribution,” she says.

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The loophole will remain
Rob, I expect that the Ontario Liberals, the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP will not correct the problem in the bill and will leave the "or another name" loophole that the Catholic school boards have already identified. After all, all three parties need Catholic votes more than they need LGBT votes and Liberal politicians like Kathleen Wynne know that Xtra and left-wing LGBT activists will always go easy on them (while demonizing Conservatives and Rob Ford on a near-daily basis for even the smallest of matters). I understand your bias. But, when the legislation is passed, Catholic school boards will no doubt prevent LGBT students from using the word "gay" in the names of their school organizations.
Ron, the reason that we have a deliberative legislative process is precisely to solve issues like this. The proposed law hasn't been enacted and is subject to review.
Even still, Broten has a point. We don't need the saw to specify that schools need to offer "gay-straight alliances," we need them to offer groups that allow gay students to socialize and discuss issues that are important to them. Those same students may prefer names other than "gay-straight alliance" (which some may think is non-inclusive of LBT students) or the current vogue for GSAs may give way to another name in the future. Moreover, Catholic schools, forced to use the name, could otherwise subvert the purpose into the sort of groups described in Andrea's article. As the bill goes through consultations and committees, hopefully legislators will be able to find the right balance to accomplish safe schools for all students.
Response to Rob Salerno
Rob, the words "or another name" in the Liberals’ proposed anti-bullying legislation will be used by Catholic School Boards to censor the word gay. Section 303.1 of the proposed legislation states: (quote) Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead ... activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name. (end of quote). The president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association has stated that the words (quote) or another name (end of quote) means Catholic boards can overrule students and force them to rename the groups, even if they specifically request GSAs. Even the Liberal Education Minister is trying to sell the idea of another name than GSAs. The Xtra article I originally cited quotes Minister Broten as saying: (quote) If requested by a student, the board must find a way to support the student. For example, the Ottawa Carleton DSB has a Rainbow coalition. This is not about the name but about what support is provided to students. (end of quote). To stop Catholic School Boards from censoring the word gay, the Liberals should revise the proposed legislation to add a clause like (quote) A board shall not prevent an organization referred to in section 303.1 from using the words lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in the name of an organization (end of quote).
censoring gay?
Hi Ron,
Not sure where you're getting your information. According to Andrea Houston's latest filing on the matter, Minister Broten has been clear that the Accepting Schools Act "very clearly state[s] that schools need to support student-led initiatives such as a gay straight alliance."
As for why we chose to profile her, well, she's a lesbian in a very prominent position of power. She's probably the most powerful and influential lesbian in Canada right now. That makes her a compelling subject in my mind. If there were an openly gay person in Harper's cabinet, I'd gladly take the opportunity to interview and profile them.
Allowing censoring the word "gay"
Why is Liberal cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne being idolized by Xtra when her Liberal government appears willing to let Catholic school boards prevent students from using the word "gay" in the names of student groups like GSAs? See http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/Ontario_bishops_release_student_group_guidelines-11435.aspx If federal Conservative cabinet minister John Baird acquiesced in such an "Uncle Tom" manner at the federal level, he would be attacked and villified by Xtra.
Rob Salerno: Youth Liberal
Tags: Puff Piece
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