Cabinet Ministers Kathleen Wynne and Deb Matthews, who are both considered top contenders for the Ontario Liberal leadership, spoke to the media Wednesday regarding the prorogation of Queen's Park and the upcoming leadership race.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty stunned the electorate and his cabinet this week when he announced that he was stepping down as Liberal leader and prorogued the legislature until the party selects its new leader.
Shutting down Queen’s Park, however, was not the Grits’ first option and was a move that received strong opposition from Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives and Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats.
“There’s a discomfort obviously in having the legislature shut. Nobody wanted to do that; it wasn’t our first choice. Having had to do that, we want this to go very quickly,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne, alongside Health Minister Deb Matthews, to a group of reporters in Toronto on Wednesday. “We want the people’s place to be re-opened and I believe the Liberal leadership race will be very quickly upon us, quickly over and we will be able to resume.”
The two potential Liberal leadership contenders confirmed that there is a lot that needs to be discussed over the coming days, including whether or not they will step down as ministers in order to run for the party’s leadership. The premier advised his ministers to step down if they wish to seek the leadership, according to a Liberal source.
Both Wynne and Matthews concurred with the recommendation and said it made “perfect sense.”
“It makes perfect sense that we separate our government responsibilities from a campaign for leadership. The premier did surprise because it has not been the tradition but I think he is the integrity guy,” said the Health Minister, who announced earlier of a $15 million initiative to tackle prescription drug addiction in the province. “He wants a very clear separation of responsibilities and the best way to do that is to give up responsibilities as minister before you embark on that campaign.”
Wynne, also an Aboriginal Affairs Minister, isn’t concerned about who will take over the reins of the ministries because there are a lot of capable and smart individuals at Queen’s Park and she urged everyone not to “underestimate the brain power of Ontario’s public service.”
“There are people in our caucus who can step into these roles who have been parliamentary assistants who know how government works,” said the Don Valley West Member of Provincial Parliament.
Asked if the premier made these decisions due to scandals that have plagued the McGuinty government, such as ORNGE, the Power Plant cancellations, eHealth and others, both Matthews and Wynne shook their heads in disagreement.
“I think he’s coming at it from the positive constructive that we want to make sure there’s a separation of activities from these people,” explained Wynne. “They need somebody else to run these ministries, but that’s the impression I got from what he said to us.”
Meanwhile, Matthews stated that the minority government has had a very unproductive year and said that only two bills were passed, which took a lot of work to get done. The Grits have 53 seats, the Tories have 36 and the NDP maintains 18.
“That’s a lot of work to get two bills through. To say that was a productive legislature that was shut down just doesn’t reflect the reality that it was not a productive place,” added the Health Minister, who has also been marred with controversy over ORNGE.
Other Liberal leadership contenders include Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, Energy Minister Chris Bentley and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa.