Premier of Ontario • February 2013 to June 2018
‘Sorry, not sorry.’
This was the message former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne sent out to millions of voters in the final throes of the 2018 Ontario provincial election. It was an acknowledgement of the political dynamics at play: as leader, Wynne was unpopular and this had become an overarching narrative in the election.
Wynne was born in Toronto in 1953. Her father was a doctor, and her mother was a musician. She attended public schools in Toronto before earning degrees at Queen’s University, the University of Toronto, and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She co-founded Citizens for Local Democracy in opposition to the amalgamation of Metro Toronto, and founded the Toronto Parent Network to improve public education.
Wynne first ran for office in 1994, to become a Toronto school trustee. She lost by 72 votes. She remained active in local advocacy work and ran again in 200. During the campaign, Wynne was labeled by her opponents as an extremist lesbian. Nevertheless, she persisted and the next time, she won.
This victory began what would become a remarkable political rise: in 2003, Wynne won a nomination race in Don Valley West, defeating an incumbent cabinet minister to become an MPP; in 2004, she was appointed as the parliamentary assistant to the minister of education and in 2006, she herself held the post. She led several ministries, and ran for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party in 2013. Wynne won, becoming Ontario’s first – and to date, only – female premier. She led the Ontario Liberal Party through her first general election in 2014, winning a majority mandate. In 2018, Wynne sought reelection and lost, with party presence reduced to just seven seats.
Why is it that female premiers tend to last only half as long as male premiers in Canada?
When asked about this, Wynne offered up this perspective:
”[Women] don’t wear well on people. What we saw early on in the term, in our polling numbers, was that I was popular. People liked me. Now, you can argue that I made policy decisions that made people dislike me – but what was interesting was that, when we did polling at the end of my term, it was not the policy issues that people said made them dislike me. They couldn’t put their finger on what it was. There was an element of, ‘I don’t like your voice’, or ‘I’ve had enough of her now’. I’m not attributing our loss to that dislike. It was always going to be very difficult for Liberals in Ontario to win that election. But the likability piece – the intangibles that lead people to dislike a leader – it happens with women in a way that just doesn’t happen with men.”