Premier designate vows to have Northern MPPs in cabinet, but won’t commit to retaining current ministers
Northern Ontario will be represented in the next provincial cabinet, but Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne refused to say Feb. 5 whether Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci will be included.
In a conference call with journalists from across Northern Ontario, Wynne said she would unveil her cabinet Feb. 11. But when asked whether current ministers from Northern Ontario would be retained, she made light of the question.
“You want me to make my cabinet announcement right here? Give you guys the scoop?” Wynne joked. “Let me just say the North and the health of the North is very important to me, and my cabinet is going to reflect all of the regions of the province. Without pre-empting my cabinet announcement, I cannot imagine forming a cabinet without having regional and Northern representation.”
Wynne was more definitive in answering a question from a North Bay reporter, who asked if she would do what she and other candidates indicated they would during the Liberal leadership race and reverse “Mr. Bartolucci’s decision” to sell off Ontario Northland. She denied ever committing to reversing the decision.
“I’m pretty sure I never said that we would stop that process,” Wynne responded. “I want to make sure that the divestiture is proceeding in a way that makes sense.”
While she said she supports more community input, her goal is to come up with a broader Northern Ontario and rural transportation strategy, unlike Ontario Northland, which was exclusive to Northeastern Ontario.
She also committed to holding a cabinet meeting in Northern Ontario by March 11, although she said it had yet to be decided where. She said she’ll follow through with her pledge to create a Northern Ontario cabinet committee whose job it will be to inform the government of the impact provincial decisions will have in the North.
“That’s the rationale behind the committee.”
She’ll said be busy between now and Feb. 19, when she plans to have the Ontario Legislature resume. The assembly has been prorogued since former Premier Dalton McGuinty stepped down in October.
“I have appointed my transition team,” she said, who will be in charge of preparing the Liberal caucus and the revised cabinet to govern. “In the past week, I’ve reached out to the opposition. I’ve spoken with both (Tory leader) Tim Hudak and (NDP leader) Andrea Horvath, and our staffs are now going back and forth and are having an ongoing conversation.
“I really believe we have a responsibility to work together to make minority government work … The swearing in of the new cabinet will take place Feb. 11 and I’m now in the process of preparing a Throne speech.”
She repeated pledges she made during the leadership campaign to continue with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s plan to end the slots program at Ontario racetracks in favour of placing full casinos in 29 gaming zones. She reiterated no city that doesn’t want a casino will have to accept once.
“My imprint on that is that communities need to make their own decisions, for example, about placing casinos. I’m not going to impose that on anyone.”
Wynne promised that her commitment to Northern and rural communities will have teeth, and said it’s vital to come up with a strategy for economic development.
“We’ve got to have a strategy for the North — there has to be a plan to deal with Northern realities,” she said. “I want our connection to the North to be real. That’s why I want to come to Northern Ontario to have a cabinet meeting. I want to hear from people in the North about their concerns on a regular basis.”
Wynne said that’s the cornerstone to her strategy to revive the Liberal brand in the North, where the Tories and especially the NDP have won former Liberal ridings in recent elections. The party barely held on to Sudbury in the 2011 provincial election, a traditional Liberal stronghold where Bartolucci is a high-profile cabinet minister.
“I heard very loudly and clearly that we need a better connection with the North. That’s why I’m putting the mechanisms in place that will allow us to have a better connection. And I will be travelling to the North and listening to concerns – and addressing those concerns, not just paying lip service.”
When asked whether a Wynne government would support expanding the powers of the Ontario ombudsman to include the MUSH sector — municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals – she said it wasn’t on her agenda.
“That’s not something I’ve weighed in on at this point, (but) I know it’s been an issue that has been raised,” she said. “What’s really important to me is that we have the right accountability mechanisms in place, the right accountability in place in all of our sectors.
“I think what we’re talking about is accountability and ensuring that services are being delivered in the best way possible. And that’s a commitment. Absolutely. That is my priority.”