Premier, pants activist, and habitual runner Kathleen Wynne won’t let a little rainfall keep her from the open sidewalk. We accepted Wynne’s invitation to join her on a jog in her North Toronto neighbourhood to talk negative campaigning, Toronto transit strategy, and European TV shows—and to find out what’s with all the running.
I’m hoping you’re prepared to keep my pace. I’m not exactly in your category in terms of running.
But you’re way, way younger. You have that on your side.
Speaking of—I gather you set a running record in high school.
I was always a runner. I started in elementary school, and then in high school I ran what was then the 440-yard dash. In 1970, I set a record of 63.3 seconds for the Georgian Bay Secondary School Association area. The next year we changed to metric, so the record stands. Forever!
What were you like back then?
I was pretty opinionated. I was involved in student council and sports. It was in a small high school, so being involved in student government or sports was possible for anyone. I loved school. I loved everything about it.
Ever spend time in the principal’s office?
I had my conflicts. My first political action was fighting for the right for girls to wear pants to school. When I started, girls had to wear skirts. This was 1967-ish. There was a group of us who really were irked by this. We’d go to school in our pants and get sent home and then come back with notes from our mothers saying that we were allowed to wear pants. And then we’d come back in pants the next day and the whole thing would start again. We finally got the point across.
I know running is a big thing for you. Are you one of those people who goes a little squirrely if you can’t get out for a run?
I am. I’m very careful about not getting injured because I don’t want to lose the ability to run. I have run a couple of marathons, but I don’t have the opportunity to train now, so I don’t take the chance. It’s the running, but it’s also being outside. My life is so indoors now, so sedentary, that moving and being outside in the air is very important.
[Reporter begins panting audibly.]
Yup. You took over at a low point for the provincial Liberal party following the Hydro fiasco. What have you done to earn our trust?
I feel good having been very straightforward about the challenges we faced and tackling them head-on. Whether it’s teachers, relocation of the gas plants and the committee questioning that, I didn’t try to sweep anything under the carpet. With the policies that I’ve brought forward, I’ve tried to take some stands. I think they’re things that maybe people didn’t expect that we would take on, like building transit and the retirement pension plan. Neither of those issues is going to be resolved tomorrow, but they’re both very important for the future.
Complete this sentence: Dalton McGuinty is: a) the ghost at your banquet; b) the monkey on your back; c) the fly in your ointment; or d) other?
Other! He’s the colleague who did a lot of things right and, like all human beings, he made some mistakes.
In a recent interview, you said that there isn’t a government in history that hasn’t done things that they could have done better. So, a year and some months in, what could the Liberals have done better on your watch?
We’ve worked so hard to get it all right. Maybe we could have worked a bit faster in terms of some of the issues. I think there has been some criticism on transit, but I really felt like I needed to have [Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel chair] Anne Golden weigh in on the different panels. So, yes, maybe the pace. Although some would argue that we’ve moved very fast. I’m very impatient.
I think everybody is feeling pretty impatient about transit in Toronto. Can we have a bit of a walk for a second?
Okay, that’s okay.
[Reporter and premier slow their pace to a gentle stroll.]
Why has solving Toronto’s transit woes been such a massive ordeal and why will your plan be any different?
So, here’s the thing: For 40 years, we have not had a consistent strategy for building transit in this province. Metrolinx is not that old. It’s their responsibility to have that long-term plan, but because it’s sort of a new process, there has been jostling for authority and some stopping and starting. My hope is that now that we’ve committed to what we started in 2003, we’ll get into a better habit of building transit in an ongoing way. When people start to see projects completed—when they see the Spadina extension, the Pearson/Union rail link, the Eglinton crosstown, it will become more real and they’ll want to see it continue.
It’s a great goal, but how will you fund it?
We have funded the projects that are underway now. I came in and said we can’t do this without creating a new revenue stream. We’ve done that; we’ve got $29 billion*
in our budget over the next 10 years. Neither of the other parties has a holistic plan laid out for building transit. My hope is that people who believe that infrastructure is important will support us.
One thing’s for certain—voters have a pretty glaring choice to make come election day.
That’s for sure. Every day it’s getting clearer that there is a stark choice between us and what the Conservatives are proposing. We’ve put out a plan that invests in things like transit, roads, bridges, people, education, job creation. Tim Hudak is putting out a plan that is more drastic than what Mike Harris did in terms of reducing taxes and cutting jobs from the people who protect us and provide services.
Do you worry that some voters might be lured in by the extreme austerity? It worked for Rob Ford.
I do. I worry if he is successful that we could be pushed back towards recession. You take all of that economic opportunity out of Ontario, the spending power, all of those people paying taxes. That doesn’t create jobs.
You were very vocal in your condemnation of negative campaigning, and then last week we saw the ad where you bash Andrea Horwath. It’s at least a little aggressive.
I don’t consider it a personal attack, which is what I have an issue with. It is an attack on her ideas, or her lack thereof and the decisions she made around the budget.
And you decided to deliver that message yourself rather than having some anonymous voiceover.
The conventional wisdom is that leaders shouldn’t associate themselves with negative advertising, but what I said to my team is that I don’t want anything said on my behalf that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying myself, so that’s why it’s me saying it. I believe what I said.
You don’t hear Stephen Harper accusing Justin Trudeau of being a stripper in those ads where Trudeau takes his top off.
Exactly. So he can pretend that, somehow, it’s somebody else doing those things. No. It’s something that he has to take responsibility for.
It’s funny because in the political bubble, every move you guys make is tracked so closely, but I was listening to a show on CBC where the average person on John Street had no idea who you were. One person thought Olivia Chow was premier.
I’ve been knocking on doors for my own elections since 1994, so I know that people are caught up in their own lives—they don’t necessarily know provincial from municipal and federal. But as we get closer to the election date, that awareness will go up. I think that things like social media and phone calls are important, but there’s nothing that can replace having a human being at your door, so we go back and we go back and we go back.
There’s Kathleen Wynne at my door again—I’m trying to watch the Kardashians!
Have you ever considered taking up crack smoking? I hear it does wonders for your name recognition.
Not in a million years. Not in a million years.
[Reporter is able to pick up the pace again, and the run resumes.]
In an interview from last December your partner, Jane Rounthwaite, said that all she wanted for Christmas was a little time away from the spotlight. Have you been able to deliver?
No, not so much.
When is the last time you and Jane went on a date that didn’t take place on a big red bus?
I can’t even remember. When we have free time, we see the family. Three weekends ago my three kids and all the grandchildren were over at the house for dinner. That was just a gift.
Do you get much time for pop culture? Do you watch House of Cards? I feel a little bit like Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright on this run.
I don’t. I don’t have a lot of time.
Even Obama has time.
We have gotten a few series, and we watch from start to finish. We watched all of Modern Family and we got this Danish series called Borgen and now I’m watching a British one called The Politician’s Wife.
As you may know, Barbara Walters is retiring from TV. I thought we could end on one of of her classic questions: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
I’d be a willow tree. Willow trees create such shade, people have picnics under them and it’s like this protective awning. I’d love to think that I could be that.
CORRECTION, MAY 21, 2014: The original version of this article—as it appeared here and will appear in the May 22, 2014 print edition of The Grid—cited an incorrect budget figure for the Toronto-transit budget. The correct amount is $29 billion. The Grid regrets the error.