Kathleen Wynne (b 21 May 1953- )
When Kathleen Wynne was sworn in as Ontario’s 25th premier on 11 February 2013, the event marked notable “firsts” in Canadian politics. Wynne became the first female leader of the nation’s largest province and Canada’s first openly gay premier. In 2013 Ontario had only 28% female MLAs and Equal Voice reported that very few identified as members of the LGBTQ community. Wynne’s election nevertheless represented a significant shift in electoral politics towards increasingly diverse representation.
The multilingual Wynne (English, French, German, Dutch)(Wells) holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen’s University and a Master of Arts in Linguistics from the University of Toronto, as well as a Master of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She completed a one-week course in mediation training at Harvard University, a skill that promised to be critical in her role as leader of a minority government. Like many others, she built her political career on early community activism, notably founding membership in Citizens for Local Democracy (1998), and the Metro [Toronto] Parent Network (1996).
Wynne’s formal involvement in politics began when she ran as an openly gay woman for the Toronto School Board in 1994 in Ward 12. Defeated by only 72 votes after a homophobic smear campaign, she returned six years later as a public school Trustee for Ward 8 despite continued attacks. During her term, she opposed government cuts and encouraged the purchase of teaching materials that included gay and lesbian parents.
In 2003, Wynne entered provincial politics as part of a Liberal assault on a Conservative administration well-known for its attacks on the public sector and environmental protection. Representing the suburban seat of Don Valley West, her star rose quickly. In the 2007 election she gained the reputation of a “giant killer” in defeating Provincial Conservative leader John Tory (Adam). After she proved her mettle as a parliamentary assistant, the Liberal premier, Dalton McGuinty appointed her Minister of Education (2006-2010), making her Ontario’s first openly lesbian cabinet minister. She served as Minister of Transportation from 2010-2011 and later Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs from October 2011 until she announced her bid for leadership in late 2012.
During her ministerial appointments, Wynne supported causes that marked her as a representative of the Liberal left wing. The introduction of full-day kindergarten, a longstanding progressive promise, during her term as Minister of Education, indicated her commitment to the province’s ‘working’ mothers. In 2003, the alignment of her sympathies and that of the new government was confirmed when Ontario became the first province to legalize same sex marriage (after a Court of Appeal ruling).
Wynne’s politics was rooted in her personal life and experiences. After the end of her ten year marriage to Phil Cowperthwaite, with whom she has three children, she came out as a lesbian in her thirties. She co-parented with her former husband and her second partner and longtime friend Jane Rounthwaite whom she married in 2005. Their relationship exemplified the diversity of Canada’s new family relations (Cochran). Wynne is a member of Canada’s United Church, traditionally among the most inclusive and progressive of the nation’s mainstream religious communities.
When Wynne decided to run for the Liberal leadership, she pointedly asked her party the relevance of her sexual orientation: “is Ontario ready for a gay premier? … Let’s say what that actually means: Can a gay woman win?” (Wynne, Convention Speech). She went on to win on the third ballot against frontrunner, former M.P.P. Sandra Pupatello, whose position was weakened by her lack of a seat in the legislature. The nomination and election of Wynne suggest that her party may be positioning itself as left of centre in Ontario’s three-horse electoral race.
Though the future of her minority government was uncertain (such vulnerability is not uncommon when women obtain political positions), Wynne’s election represented an historic moment in Canadian political topography. Since women also headed governments in four other provinces and one territory in early 2013, Canada faced an unprecedented testing of female leadership. This trend can also been seen across the border, exemplified by the successful election of openly gay Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate in 2012. Wynne herself noted that her sexual orientation and gender would have long marked her as unsuitable for public service. Where previously it would have been unthinkable for a woman, never mind an openly gay activist, to claim political office, a diversity of voices are beginning to win a public audience. This promise of more equal democratic representation deserves close attention and assessment from scholars and citizens alike.
Adam, Mohammed “Edges front-runner Pupatello after Kennedy, Sousa make dramatic move.” Ottawa Citizen, January 27, 2013.
Adam, Mohammed “Wynne’s Way: After McGuinty, Ontario’s new premier begins to chart her own course.” Ottawa Citizen, March 24, 2013
“Biography of the Premier.” Accessed April 5, 2013
Cochran, Cate. “Phil Cowperthwaite, Kathleen Wynne.” Reconcilable Differences: Marriages End, Families Don’t. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2008.
Equal Voice, Fast Facts: Women in Provincial Politics. 2013
Wells, Jennifer. “Ontario Liberal Leadership: Behind the Scenes with Kathleen Wynne.” The Star, January 25, 2013
Wynne, Kathleen, Convention Speech. January 27, 2013.