Emily Wilson, News Reporter
Kathleen Wynne may not be the Ontario premier anymore, but she continues to instil inspiration to those she graces.
But she is also working to rebuild bridges with voters, including Humber College students and staff, in preparation for what she hopes will be a Liberal victory in 2022.
“I’m trying to answer the questions of young people to the greatest degree possible,” she said.
Wynne was greeted Monday at the doors of North Campus by eager journalism students prior to her talk to their class. She was invited to speak about her achievements and hardships in her many years of politics.
Wynne became Number 25 on the list of Ontario’s premiers in 2013, but even more importantly the first female and openly gay leader of the provincial government.
She said it is not a surprise she entered politics for she always had an affinity for community issues “and the power dynamics of decision making.”
As a teenager and young woman in the 1960s, Wynne often attended protests on women’s rights and education.
If we get education right then everything else in our democracy works”Kathleen Wynne – former premier of Ontario
The 66-year-old said education has always been at the forefront of her political activism.
“I think education is the cornerstone. If we get education right then everything else in our democracy works,” Wynne said, which is why she was so disheartened to witness the dismantling of her efforts on education and healthcare.
“Doug Ford and I are very different people,” Wynne said. “I have to be honest with you. I don’t think that the decisions that his government that he’s making are in the best interests of the province.”
“The problem I have with the decisions that he’s making is that they are not looking at the evidence they are not looking at what we know works,” she said, especially with changes to education.
One of the programs she advocated most for during her time as premier was the revised Ontario Student Assistance Program for post-secondary students, where those who qualified received grants rather than loans.
Now two years later that program has changed dramatically with the election of Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives.
But despite the setbacks, Wynne’s optimism continues to shine through. Despite cuts across numerous programs by the Ford government, improvements initiated by the Liberal government haven’t completely disappeared.
“The bar’s been moved. People are earning $14 an hour,” she said.
Overall student assistance is higher and more funding for violence against women is available.
Her career, however, has been anything but easy and she hopes the path she’s taken will make it possible for other women to succeed.
Wynne fought against discrimination against her gender, her orientation and trying to get ahead in the province’s oldest boys club.
“There are real barriers,” she said, ones that are needed to be broken before entering a male-dominated institution. And she did that by having a team around her who believed in her values and ideals.
She stressed the importance because more women at the table create more dialogue on social issues.
Wynne’s appearance at Humber shows her dedication to inspiring girls and young women around her. Anum Qasir, a first-year journalism student, said she can tell Wynne truly cares about her work.
“It’s obvious she wants to make a difference and that’s what a real woman is all about,” she said. “It shows woman empowerment.”
Wynne is happy she can use her platform to help the thousands of young girls and women who walk the halls of Queen’s Park each year realize their potential, rather than see the portraits of the previous premiers, who are all white men, she said.
“The fact that I’m a woman is important, for the girls and for the boys,” she said. Diversity and LGBTQ+ representation should be the norm.
Through her work as premier and her long-time position as the MPP for Don Valley West, a title she has held since 2003, Wynne voiced her prioritization of First Nations rights and quality of life.
She said it was a goal of hers to visit and experience the everyday life of Indigenous people in northern Ontario, including towns like Attawapiskat, located in the Kenora Region on James Bay.
Humber journalism student Damian Charles connected with Wynne over his own experiences in Attawapiskat. In 2016, he and a group of high school students introduced soccer to the remote town in response to the high suicide rates of First Nation youth.
Charles said it was nice to know that she goes out of her way to go up there. “She’s showing the initiative,” he said. “It shows that to get where you want in life you have to go that extra mile.”
As for the future, Wynne is hopeful for the Liberal party. She said the new leader will be chosen at the Liberal leadership convention in Mississauga on March 6 and 7, giving the party two years to build a strong platform.
“I am really pleased there will be a passing of the torch to the next generation because they are all young,” she said.
Wynne knows her position in politics has changed and has new goals to match.
“What I’m trying to do is do everything I can to speak up about what I think is important,” she said.
Wynne’s closing message to the journalism students was short, sweet and filled with hope.
“We’re not done yet.”