Kathleen Wynne sits in a chair next to Ralph Lean

Photo: Justin Chandler

Premier answers students’ questions at Ryerson talk

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By Justin Chandler

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne answered questions from Ryerson students about her government’s policies and actions Thursday afternoon.

Wynne spoke with lawyer and Ryerson visiting professor Ralph Lean, who organized the question and answer session as part of a speaker series co-hosted by Professor Asher Alkoby’s Regulation, Government and Socially Responsible Management class. The talk took place at the Ted Rogers School of Management.

Here are the highlights:

Trump

Lean asked Wynne what she thought about Republican candidate Donald Trump winning the United States election Tuesday.

Wynne said she “did not see it coming.”

“There are many things for us to worry about in the outcome, quite frankly,” Wynne said. She said Trump’s protectionist rhetoric is worrying for the Ontario economy, which relies on free trade.

“It’s a real problem that the president-elect doesn’t see the problem of climate change, in my opinion,” Wynne said.

Fundraising

A student asked what the Ontario government will do to ensure party fundraising doesn’t allow wealthy donors more influence than average people. Wynne said her party is changing the rules to prevent politicians from attending fundraisers.

The liberals came under fire earlier this year for taking large donations in return for face time with ministers.

Wynne said fundraising does not sway politicians, but that something must be done to address the negative perception people have of it.

ORPP spending

A student asked Wynne how she justified spending on the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), a proposed retirement plan the provincial Liberals were developing but scrapped when the federal government decided to increase Canada Pension Plan benefits.

The Wynne government spent about $70 million on the ORPP, including $3.7 million in compensation payments for employees at the corporation that was to administer the plan.

Wynne reiterated what she said before when criticized about these costs. “Had we not done that work … we would not have been in able to push the notion that we needed to have CPP enhancement,” she said.

Wynne said the government had to pay a lot to get the best people to oversee the plan.  

Climate

Lean asked if climate agreements such as the one reached in Paris in April go far enough to be of any use.

Wynne said setting targets is an effective means for reducing emissions.

“We can make absolute reductions if we take action,” she said.

Funding Catholic schools

Wynne said she’s grappled with the question of whether to publicly fund Catholic schools for years. She was asked why Ontario does so when it doesn’t fund other religious schools.  

The Ontario education system is not set up the way Wynne would set it up now, she said. But she suggested the issue is too politically contentious for the government to deal with.

“We are not gonna to enter into a decade-long civil battle about church and state,” Wynne said.

“It would be a huge and hugely divisive issue.”

Rather the government will push Ontario’s different school boards to work more closely together.

She said non-Catholic parents in her riding send their children to Catholic schools so they can learn about spirituality.

Queer activism

Wynne, a lesbian, was asked if she might embrace an activist role to support LGBTQ2S people. She said she’s never been comfortable billing herself as an activist or taking credit from those who say she advanced queer people’s fight for equality by becoming the first openly gay premier.

Wynne said she lived with “white, female heterosexual privilege” until she came out at 37-years-old.

She said she’s still working to defend queer people’s rights and thinks the new sex-ed curriculum, which teaches that there are different sexualities, is one way to do so.

Human rights abroad

Citing China, India and Israel as examples, one person asked Wynne if she’s turned a blind eye to poor human rights records in places where she’s tried to forge stronger business ties.

Wynne said she always talks about human rights when she travels to countries that lack strong rights protection.

“I threaten the status quo in those countries just by showing up,” she said.

Women in business

“I think having a 30 per cent target [for women] on boards is a good objective,” Wynne said when asked how to get more women onto businesses’ boards.

She said she prefers targets to quotas.

All the research shows companies would be more successful if they had more women on their boards, Wynne said.

Wynne’s cabinet is 40 per cent female.

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