Every politician wants to leave a legacy that will have a lasting impact on his or her community, province or country. It’s only natural.
For example, former Premier Dalton McGuinty wanted to be known as the education Premier. He introduced full day kindergarten, classroom caps in early years, improved test scores and higher graduation rates. These will have lasting benefits for years to come.
At the beginning of her mandate, Premier Wynne sought to be the transit premier. She made huge investments in transit to help combat gridlock, improve air quality and get people to where they needed to go quickly and efficiently.
Thus far her track record is mixed. Big projects in Toronto such as the Scarborough subway have bogged down and have jumped in costs. The Eglinton Crosstown may be built on time but there may not be any vehicles to ride the new LRT.
Other communities, such as Brampton have rejected a provincially funded route. In Hamilton there has been vocal opposition and in Kitchener-Waterloo there has been controversy over cost overruns.
So transit is not panning out quite as planned.
However there is a silver lining. Wynne is introducing a number of programs that will have a lasting impact on this province that will, in their own right, be a legacy that she can be proud to own.
Her recent budget introduced the first provincial pharmacare program. While targeted at anyone less than 24 years of age, it is nevertheless the first shot on a national pharmacare program. Wynne’s decision was a bold move made easier by having a balanced budget.
Next up is pension reform. Wynne is seen as the architect of changes to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) that were long overdue. The Premier asked former Prime Minister Harper to bring about those changes and when he refused she set about creating the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP). When Harper was defeated Wynne lobbied the new Trudeau government hard on the issue and the feds came to the table. A strengthened and enhanced CPP agreement resulted in Wynne disbanding her ORPP efforts.
One of the more interesting projects the Premier is championing is a basic income pilot project. It has been tried once before in Manitoba but was scrapped once a change of government took place. This time the government is embarking on a three year, three-city pilot looking at how a guaranteed income will replace the byzantine system of welfare and other social programs. If successful, it will transform the welfare system and usher new reforms that will improve people’s lives.
Wynne has also championed free tuition for lower and middle-income Ontario families. Over 200,000 students will be eligible for this benefit. By providing assistance to many who are struggling this could be a major game changer. Studies have shown that higher education results in better jobs with better incomes. In a globally competitive world having a well-educated workforce is critical to the future success of the province.
On environmental issues Wynne will be credited with introducing the cap and trade system to Ontario. The market, which includes Quebec and California, has the potential to raise millions to fight climate change. If Ontario replicates the success of California than this will have a long lasting impact on the province.
The Premier has also introduced changes to how Ontario police deal with issues such as carding or racial profiling as well as the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) that investigates circumstances involving police and civilians that have resulted in serious injury, death or allegations of sexual assault.
And the Premier is not yet finished.
An important study on the changing workplace will usher in new reforms for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century to reflect the tremendous changes that have taken place. Plus plans are afoot to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour from its current $11.40.
Many of these programs received little attention but can have a lasting impact.
As the Premier said:
“This is no time to retreat. This is no time for government to cling to the status quo or step away from its responsibilities. This is the time for us to be focused and fair. To be bold. To not simply describe and reassert our values, but to defend them and act on them. This is the time to bring forward a clear plan that helps the most vulnerable and works for all.”
For Kathleen Wynne, she has established a legacy outside of transit that can be transformative for the people and province of Ontario.
Marcel Wieder is President and Chief Advocate of Aurora Strategy Group. He is an award winning political consultant who has worked on campaigns for over forty years.