After 152 years, Queen’s Park hangs its first official portrait of a female premier

Kathleen Wynne was Ontario’s first female premier and Canada’s first openly LGBTQ premier. Now her portrait is making history at the legislature
By Steve Paikin - Published on Dec 10, 2019
Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell (left), former premier Kathleen Wynne (centre), and current premier Doug Ford (right) at the unveiling of Wynne's official portrait at Queen's Park on December 9. (Steve Paikin)



Kathleen Wynne always said she wanted to get her official portrait done quickly after her departure from office for two reasons.

First, she joked, the wrinkles on her face weren’t getting any fainter, and she wanted the painting to resemble as much as possible the woman she’d been while in office.

But, second — and more important — she wanted young girls on school field trips to wander the second floor of the Ontario legislature, and, among all those 25 portraits of former premiers, see a woman. Even if it was just one woman. But she figured even one woman would give them hope.

flowers in a painting
Kathleen Wynne’s three children, three grandchildren, and life partner, Jane Rounthwaite, made it into the portrait, appearing in photos on her desk. (Steve Paikin)

The official portrait of Ontario’s 25th premier was unveiled at Queen’s Park yesterday evening, and it was one of those rare events that attracted people from all parties, all of whom demonstrated a generosity of spirit.

Hell, even Mike Harris was there. Yes, the same former premier Mike Harris whose education policies from 1995 to 2002 so outraged Wynne that she decided to run for school-board trustee and then MPP.

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The current premier, Doug Ford, was on stage and charming. “I even wore my special red tie for you tonight,” he quipped, before adding poignantly, “Thanks to Kathleen, young girls can grow up knowing they can be anything they want to be.”

flowers on table
The tulips on the right evoke the years Kathleen Wynne lived in Holland. (Steve Paikin)

Part of the awkwardness of these ceremonies is that the premier who speaks at them is almost always the same person who defeated the person being honoured. But both Ford and Wynne rose to the occasion — neither of them said a single negative word about the other. It almost made one forget that, 18 months ago, the pair was locked in what seemed like mortal combat during the 2018 general election.

Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell brought her marvellous elegance to the proceedings and spoke glowingly of Wynne’s contribution to history. “Symbols are important to us,” she said, “and this portrait is a symbol of leadership. We now have lived long enough to see a female premier. Young women will now see what inclusion looks like.”

Books on table
All the books on the desk point to something poignant in Kathleen Wynne’s life. (Steve Paikin)

The only bittersweet note might have been struck by the absence of Wynne’s father, John, who died this past summer. But her mother, Patsy O’Day, was on hand, as was the former premier’s partner, Jane Rounthwaite, and numerous former cabinet ministers, MPPs, and advisers from her tenure as premier, from 2013 to 2018. (Although she was in office just over five years, Wynne is the tenth-longest-serving Ontario premier.)

Wynne chose Linda Kooluris-Dobbs to paint her portrait, and the two incorporated many elements of the still-current MPP’s life into the painting. For example, Wynne’s three children (“they helped me stay grounded”), three grandchildren (“they are our joy”), and life partner, Jane Rounthwaite (“there is no Premier Kathleen Wynne or political success without Jane”), made it into the portrait, appearing in photos on her desk.

running shoe
A single running shoe on the bottom right serves as a reminder that this is a politician for whom fitness is hugely important. (Steve Paikin)

There’s a scarf hanging over a chair in the left foreground, a reminder, Wynne said, “that I love to wear scarves!” (And also of the numerous conversations she and her advisers had about what  appropriate wardrobe choices would be for the province’s first female premier — apparently, some thought scarves looked too chi-chi.)

The tulips on the right evoke the years Wynne lived in Holland, where she had two of her children, and reflect her concern for a cleaner environment. There’s a single running shoe on the bottom right of the painting, a reminder that this is a politician for whom fitness is hugely important. She jogged just about every morning, and, unlike most politicians, she didn’t see her weight balloon during her time in office.

There’s a canoe and an eagle feather on the desk — a reminder of how much this premier cared about moving the relationship with Indigenous people forward. And there’s a school bell for the woman who started her political career 19 years ago as a school-board trustee and eventually became minister of education.

girls with Kathleen Wynne
After the ceremony was over, Kathleen Wynne answered some questions from a group of young attendees about various items in the painting. (Steve Paikin)

There’s also a stack of books on the desk, all of which point to something poignant in Wynne’s life. There’s a biography of Pierre Trudeau, who so inspired a 15-year-old Wynne when he became prime minister in 1968. There’s a lesbian parenting manual for which Wynne and Rounthwaite co-authored a chapter. And there’s a history of Richmond Hill, the leafy suburb north of Toronto where Wynne grew up.

After the ceremony was over, Wynne stood beside her portrait as attendees snapped pictures. Suddenly, a handful of young girls wandered into the shot and began asking questions about various items in the painting. Wynne engaged with the kids, and, at that moment, you knew that both the former premier and the artist had achieved everything they’d set out to achieve.

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