Today in Canada's Political History: Kathleen Wynne Becomes Ontario's First Woman Premier

  • National Newswatch

Our guest columnist today is my dear  friend James Janerio, a history buff and a public policy expert of the highest order. He served proudly as a policy advisor for four years to Premier Kathleen Wynne of Ontario and he's paying tribute to his former boss for us at Art's History today. Over to you James.By James JanerioHistory was made on this date in 2013 with Kathleen Wynne assuming high office as Premier of Ontario. To help celebrate this important anniversary I have turned to my close friend, James Janerio, who served proudly as a policy advisor to Premier Wynne for four years.  Like me, James very much enjoys the study of Canada's rich political history.  Over to you James.Every once a while, a political first happens that shatters the landscape open for good.  February 11, 2013, fits the bill perfectly. That's the day Kathleen Wynne swore the oath and became the twenty-fifth Premier of Ontario.Her list of accomplishments and ministerial postings was long and impressive, but securing the Ontario Liberal leadership in late January was never supposed to happen. She was the underdog. Surely the thousands of delegates assembled at the old Maple Leaf Gardens would never select a progressive lesbian from Toronto as the next Premier. But we did, after a long day of balloting a cheering. Ms. Wynne pulled it off and instantly made history through force of will and skillful campaigning.As Premier, Ms. Wynne was an unapologetic champion of government as a force for good in people's lives. She proudly occupied the “activist centre”, governed by a firm world-view that no public policy problem was too large or intractable for her government to address.Against all odds, Ms. Wynne successfully led a raucous minority from Feb 2013 to June 2014. She passed a progressive budget in spring 2013 that set the stage for her approach to governing. In December of her first year, the GTA was seized by an ice storm that knocked out hydro for thousands of people, including many low-income people who had already stocked-up fridges and freezers for Christmas and faced a meagre holiday without money to replace what had spoiled. That wouldn't stand for Ms. Wynne, who was determined to help. Before long, she had turned the machinery of government toward providing grocery gift cards for hundreds of people. I remember getting the call at Community and Social Services to help make this happen for social assistance clients. Holiday vacations were cancelled for those of us working on this, but it was well worth it.All over the political spectrum, many thought that Ontario would never elect a woman Premier in a general election, especially a lesbian, and especially after over a decade of Liberal rule. They were proven wrong on Thursday, June 12, when Ontarians elected a majority Liberal government and ushered in four more years of Kathleen Wynne in the Premier's Office.Her accomplishments are too long to list in this space, and I was privileged to witness a few first-hand. The economy was finally recovering and unemployment was dropping, and Ontario was the number one jurisdiction in North America for foreign direct investment. Millions of seniors have seen and will see CPP benefits increase thanks to her push on the federal government. Scores of children had their existence validated by the changes she introduced to the sex ed curriculum. Women and girls enjoyed access to sports like never before. Thousands of young adults had a new future open to them – briefly – thanks to free tuition she created. Workers enjoyed new workplace protections and sick leave, plus a significantly higher minimum wage. For the first time, kids had access to free medication, whether their parents had workplace benefits or not. For four thousand people, the Basic Income pilot meant stability and new opportunities, at least until it was cancelled.Its hard to forget the older woman who approached Ms. Wynne and I during an announcement in Hamilton to tell us that she was able to purchase the first new winter coat she had ever owned thanks to the basic income pilot. The pride and joy on that woman's face was obvious, as was her happiness when they posed for a photo together.Nine years after her swearing-in ceremony, the legacy of Kathleen Wynne's time as Premier is prosperity, economic growth, and social justice, with an unabashed bias toward government acting to solve problems. It is also the millions of people personally impacted by the decisions she made as Premier, like the gift card recipient, the worker earning a higher minimum wage, and an older woman enjoying her first new coat.[caption id="attachment_607247" align="alignleft" width="607"] Kathleen Wynne and James Janerio[/caption]Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist.  He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney's best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen's Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy.  A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.