Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Written by Frank Klees, MPP
As published in the Auroran
February 5, 2013

A Premier Without a Mandate

Congratulations to Kathleen Wynne. On February 11, she will be sworn in as Ontario's 25th Premier along with a new line-up of cabinet ministers of her choosing. On a personal level, I wish her well. As for what lies ahead for our province under her leadership, I have serious concerns.

The transition of power began on Thursday, January 31 at a meeting in Lieutenant- Governor David Onley's suite in the legislature. Dalton McGuinty formally confirmed his resignation as Premier and the Lieutenant-Governor asked Ms. Wynne, the newly-elected leader of the Liberal Party, to form a government and become the next Premier of Ontario. Here is a question that a number of constituents have put to me over this past week...

How is it that the office of the Premier will now be occupied by someone who does not have an electoral mandate?

The last Ontario general election was on October 6, 2011, when Dalton McGuinty was elected Premier.  The results landed the Liberals one seat shy of a majority, but it was nevertheless a mandate from Ontario voters. Twelve months and 10 days later, he tossed aside his “major minority”, quit his job and shut down the business of the legislature. It was an intense time at Queen’s Park: he and his ministers were bombarded daily over their role in the Ornge air ambulance and power plant scandals. But rather than accept responsibility and put in place accountability measures proposed by Opposition MPPs, the Premier and his ministers defended their lack of oversight and continued to waste billions of tax dollars. Fast-forward to the weekend of January 26, when the Liberals decided on a new leader and there’s your answer. They blew the whistle and sent in a substitution. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it doesn’t give her a mandate.

How did Kathleen Wynne become Premier of Ontario?

Following Dalton McGuinty's resignation as Liberal Party leader, six candidates mounted campaigns to replace him. On the 3rd ballot, Kathleen Wynne was crowned as the leader of the Liberal Party by 1,150 convention delegates. The path to the Premier's office for Ms. Wynne was through the back room meetings and convention floor bartering for coveted cabinet positions by fellow candidates. Not exactly a broad-based vote of confidence, let alone a mandate to govern.

What can we expect from Premier Wynne when the legislature resumes sitting?

She has said publicly that she wants to work with the Opposition parties and that she wants to avoid the rancor and discord that McGuinty claimed had made the legislature ineffective. I for one would welcome that, and it should begin with the Premier and her ministers demonstrating respect for parliament and the role of MPPs. That means forthright answers to questions and the immediate re-constituting the committees of the legislature, including the Public Accounts Committee's investigation into the Ornge scandal and the resumption of hearings into the gas-plant cancellations.

Unfortunately, the premier-elect has already gone on record as saying that she has no intention of agreeing to a demand from the leader of the NDP for a public inquiry into the gas-plant cancellations. Her reason for not wanting a public inquiry? It would only add additional cost to the more than $230 million the government has already wasted to save Liberal seats. Not a good start for Ms. Wynne I'm afraid. It sounds like the old Premier may be on his way out, but the subbed-in Premier is still calling the same plays.

When Dalton McGuinty announced that he was quitting, he justified shutting the legislature down by saying that he wanted to allow a cooling-off period from the "heightened rancor that had so often characterized the legislature". A cursory reading of the Hansard Record will confirm that the main reason for that “rancor” was that the Premier and his ministers refused to provide even the most basic information to MPPs about the contentious issues we face.  Whether during Question Period or in the course of committee hearings, they stonewalled and deflected at every turn.

The new Premier should be mindful that the most eloquent Throne Speech pronouncements about her vision for the future, will be measured against how she responds to demands for transparency and accountability. Will we see the Wynne version of the Dalton shrug, the refusals to answer even the most basic of questions? Will we see our requests for the striking of committees deferred to the House Leader for more scripted excuses? More importantly, will our new Premier acknowledge that 1,150 delegated votes at a Liberal convention does not a mandate make.

As always, I welcome your comments and advice.