Kathleen Wynne’s official portrait, which was unveiled in the lobby at Queen’s Park Monday evening, is rich in very deliberate symbolism. The books on her desk, which she is pictured standing in front of, include a biography of Pierre Trudeau. “It was his vision of a just society that helped me to first articulate my political beliefs,” Wynne told an audience including many current and former cabinet ministers, as well as former premier Mike Harris. Also on the desk: a school bell given to her during her days as a Toronto District School Board trustee.
“I entered provincial politics because of my abiding belief in the power of publicly funded education,” she said. “If we have any hope of finally realizing that just society of our dreams, it will be because all children have equal access to education.”
But the portrait focuses as much on who she is as on what she did. Also on the desk: a book on lesbian parenting, to which she and spouse Jane Rounthwaite had contributed a chapter. A scarf draped over a chair off to the side (for somewhat complex reasons) symbolizes that children should feel they can succeed in politics no matter who they are or what they choose to wear.
“When school groups go through Queen’s Park from now on, little girls, young women, do not have to assume they are not welcome,” Wynne said of Toronto artist Linda Kooluris Dobbs’ portrait.
“My hope is that this portrait will one day be joined by others showcasing talented women of every political stripe that Kathleen has inspired,” Premier Doug Ford echoed in his remarks.
The cliché would be to say how difficult this would have been to imagine, a year ago. Even in victory, the Tories never tired of slamming Wynne. On election night, Ford didn’t even thank Wynne for her service — conceding only that they “share(d) in the same goal of a better Ontario.” Often when she stood in the legislature, the speaker would have to intervene to silence deafening mooing from the government benches. At one low point, Tory MPP Roman Baber shouted “Why are you still here?”
But of course it’s not surprising Ford would give some nice remarks. Occasions like portrait unveilings lift the veil on the partisan pantomime. “The formality frees us to be more human, by removing the rancour of the day,” as Wynne put it.
“Kathleen and I may not always see eye-to-eye on things,” Ford said, chuckling along with the audience. “But I’m so sincere when I say this: I have a tremendous amount of respect for the incredible amount of passion and drive that she brings every single day to Queen’s Park.”
All very nice. Unfortunately for Ford, he will wake up Tuesday as Canada’s least popular premier and head of a government that looks much, much older than its years.
It’s no mystery. From Day One, Ford’s government behaved as if it would never have to contest re-election. And Ford himself behaved as if he was responsible for the triumph, when he clearly had not been. When Pollara asked Ontarians why they voted PC, just 21 per cent mentioned liking Ford; 70 per cent said it was simply time for a change — in general, or from the Liberals specifically.
That was the Tory narrative: Time for a change from lavish fundraisers where rich folks get preferential access to cabinet ministers; from spending public money on partisan advertising; from Liberal cronyism. Within just a few months the Tories were throwing the same “cash-for-access” fundraisers, funding a bona fide government propaganda arm on the taxpayer dime, and dealing with their own putrid cronyism scandal.
Occasions like portrait unveilings lift the veil on the partisan pantomime
They have outraged any number of constituencies that they needn’t have. They have turned tail on several proposed cuts, leaving the proposed targets no less outraged. And for all that drama, Ford’s first budget proposed to spend exactly as much as Wynne’s last budget proposed for the same year. At least when Harris was enraging people he was getting things done, Tories often lament.
A portrait unveiling inevitably raises the question of legacy. Wynne was Ontario’s first female and first LGBTQ premier, and she’s clearly proud of it. Beyond that, so soon after her ouster, it’s hard to assess. It is bound up in 13 years of mixed-bag government, most of which preceded her time as premier. I do suspect that the radioactive unpopularity with which she left office will fade. Wynne impressed enough Ontarians in 2014 to rescue a very past-due Liberal government from opposition. Eventually she became the living embodiment of a government that was literally unelectable — but that wasn’t all on her, by any means.
It’s far too early, of course, to talk about Ford’s legacy. But it would be interesting to know what was going through his mind at the unveiling. He’ll get his portrait someday: no one can take that away from him. But as it stands he’s in danger of suffering Wynne’s eventual fate far earlier in his Queen’s Park career, thanks in large part to self-inflicted wounds.