Liberal leader hopeful visits Gravenhurst
Kathleen Wynne talks teachers, transportation and Muskoka in the north
MUSKOKA - Now on the soapbox and looking to slip into the hot seat that has been cooling down since Dalton McGuinty stepped down as premier in mid-October, provincial leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne brought her message to Muskoka Dec. 20.
OUT TO WYNNE..
Provincial Liberal leadership hopeful Kathleen Wynne (left) paid a visit to Gravenhurst Dec. 20 to talk to local riding members and supporters about her push to claim the vacant premiere’s seat.
Photo by Neil Etienne
Speaking with local Liberal riding association members, supporters and the curious at the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre, Wynne touched on a range of provincial matters, including some of those closest to the heart of Muskoka residents.
“I threw my hat in the ring because I believe right now in the province with the Liberal party, we need a leader who’s going to pull people together, who’s going to be able to bring people to the table who have got some really challenging issues that they are confronting,” she said. “Some of them (issues) of our making, but some of them just because of the economic downturn, because of where we are with the history of the country and quite frankly, in the history of the western world.
“In the microcosm of Ontario, we need a government and a leader who’s going to be able to, with optimism, deal with those issues and help people to find that optimism in themselves,” she added.
Wynne, a long-time provincial member from Don Valley West and former minister of Aboriginal Issues, Education, Municipal Affairs and Housing, and Transportation said her experience with multiple ministries has brought her around the province since she became an MPP in 2003. She said it has allowed her to make a special connection with the people and given her a strong understanding of both the urban and rural dynamics of issues.
She said for Muskoka, economics plays a huge role in the mindset of the populace and there does need to be consideration of the region’s inclusion with northern Ontario and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to help inspire business creation and improve infrastructure.
“I think the role of government is to create the conditions to bring business to the province; the private sector creates jobs, but the government can get in the way of that or facilitate that,” Wynne said. “I know that one of the (local) challenges is the in-betweenness of Muskoka; there were decisions made about the region and Muskoka was not included in the north and I get that is a huge challenge.
“As the premier, I would like to engage with the communities and figure out how we address the issues that Muskoka is facing,” Wynne added, saying she would hope to quash the concept that because she is from the Greater Toronto Area, that the rural regions don’t take as high a priority. “I’m putting myself forward as someone who comes proudly from somewhere in southern Ontario (Richmond Hill), but is someone who has spent time as a politician travelling the province, understanding what the issues are.”
One of the hot topics these days has been battle against Bill 115 and both elementary and high school teacher contracts. Wynne was candid that the process of negotiations got off on the wrong foot; however, said strong leadership can rectify any harm.
“It was always my hope we would reach collective agreements before Bill 115 would ever be used. When the (former) premier says that the process should have been different from the beginning, let me just tell you that I completely agree,” she said. “It should have been; otherwise, there should have been a more respectful dialogue at the table and it pains me enormously that there wasn’t.
“It is absolutely my desire to repair that relationship; whether the agreements have been imposed or not (by Jan. 28) we need a new process that is going to work better at the provincial level and that respects local bargaining.”
In terms of local transportation infrastructure, Wynne said as a former minister of Transportation, she is aware of the problems Gravenhurst has been having with the MTO’s 25-year horizon plans to realign and expand Highway 11.
“The best thing I think that we can do is to make sure that the Ministry of Transportation has an ongoing and realistic conversation with the folks in the riding and municipality,” she said. “People need to know exactly at what stage is the planning at, what is the next step and making sure that connection is made (between community and the ministry).”
Also, in relation to the local rail system and ending of the Northlander passenger service, she said the entire provincial rail system needs retooling.
“I don’t think we have tackled this problem in a coherent way; there’s a regulatory system in place for coaches that doesn’t make sense; we have lost rail travel across the province, but I don’t think we have looked at all the different models.
“I can’t make that guarantee right now (that the rail line infrastructure will remain in place), but is it my inclination to keep those rail corridors in place? Yes, absolutely,” Wynne added. “I had some very difficult conversations with the federal minister when I was (provincial) minister for transportation about the privatization of lines and the inability of us to control the future of those lines and I will take up that mantle again.”
In order to help rural communities compensate for a lack of transportation services, she said she’d like to see the defunct Community Transportation Action Plan be reintroduced and a province-wide integrated transportation strategy created. That action plan provided funds to small communities to co-ordinate transportation services.
“We need better transportation strategies, we need better planning, we need to look at all the different models and not just building more highways,” she said.
One of the other key pieces of local infrastructure she addressed was the current Infrastructure Ontario-led process to investigate new potential uses or divesting the Muskoka Centre Property in Gravenhurst. She said she has confidence in that department and the key will be engaging the community in the debates.
“What needs to happen is there needs to be a good community process; Infrastructure Ontario has been very good about working with us to keep infrastructure projects in public hands, but use private-sector leverage to finance,” she said. “It’s not about private ownership, it’s about the private sector taking on some of the risk up front and delivering the project on time and on budget.”
She said health care needs to continue to evolve, not just in terms of hospitals or physical structures, but in helping people get care in-home and ensuring proper transportation systems are in place to get people to the care they need.
Wynne said while she sees issues with how the Green Energy Act was drafted, she believes in its concept and would hope changes would include more public input.
“Where we need to revamp and really pay attention is on community involvement,” Wynne said. “We did not, in my opinion, do enough garnering of community buy-in.”
“I am not a revolutionary; I believe in evolutionary and incremental change,” she said. “I believe in practical solutions and I believe in consulting the people who live in the world we are trying to resolve issues for.”