Former premier Kathleen Wynne isn’t done with Queen’s Park — and Queen’s Park most certainly isn’t done with her.
The MPP for Don Valley West is doing the things that members do when they’re no longer in government: Last week, she presented a private member’s bill recommending that school buses be required to have seat belts, a cause that goes back to her roots in education policy. And then, on Monday, she was called before the legislature’s Select Committee on Financial Transparency, the tribunal the Tories created to investigate their vanquished foes.
(Technically, the committee is a creature of the legislature, not the government, but the Tories control a majority on the committee and have been energetically shooting down motions from the New Democrats — the Liberals and Greens aren’t represented at all.)
Despite hours of questioning, Tory MPPs failed to extract anything new or interesting from Wynne. Roman Baber’s aggressive questioning — so aggressive, in fact, that the PC committee chair repeatedly warned him about his tone — did not provoke a tearful confession; Lindsey Park’s more subdued and methodical questions did not trap Wynne in a web of contradictions.
The only acidic response from Wynne came during Ross Romano’s line of questioning. Romano, arguing that the Liberals’ Fair Hydro Plan had been all about winning the 2018 election, asked whether coming out on top was about ensuring voters like you or merely “dislike you less than your opposition?”
“Mr. Romano, we already know people didn’t like me, so that’s not even an issue,” Wynne answered.
Such moments aside, Wynne’s performance at the committee was a strong reminder that politics is a skill — and that Wynne didn’t ascend to one of the highest positions in Canadian politics by accident. She was, and is, someone capable of sparring with her political rivals, whether debating in the legislature or being grilled by a committee. She also emphasized that she’d chosen to be there, in part, to take some of the heat off some of the committee’s other witnesses, including private-sector advisers she says governments can’t afford to alienate or intimidate.
Her answers may have been politically savvy, but that doesn’t mean they were satisfying.
A bit of background. The committee is investigating, in part, the choices that led to the structure of the Fair Hydro Plan, which loads billions of dollars in debt onto the books of Ontario Power Generation: although the latter is a Crown corporation controlled by the province, its accounts (crucially) don’t show up on the government’s balance sheet. So OPG was able to “lower” the price of electricity — temporarily and artificially — by piling up debt that wouldn’t show up in the provincial deficit.
To hear Wynne tell it to the committee, this just happened to be the best possible solution to an admittedly complicated problem. That it happened to address a critical political vulnerability for the Liberals (high hydro prices) without exacerbating another (the deficit) is just one of the universe’s happy coincidences.
Of course, high-level civil servants have said that numerous alternatives existed. So an informed citizen could conclude that the Fair Hydro Plan looks the way it does because it was designed to do something specific, in a specific way. But informed citizens could have reached that conclusion long before the select committee had heard even a single witness — much less Wynne herself.
This was always going to be the problem with the government’s decision to rush the committee to produce a report by December 13: if it had given itself more time, there’s at least a better chance it would have winkled out something worthwhile.
Former energy minister Glenn Thibeault is set to appear before the committee Tuesday afternoon: his testimony likely represents the Tories’ last shot at getting anything of value out of this exercise. The committee’s full report is expected next week — and it’s difficult, at this late stage, to see what the report could possibly contain that would justify all the time and effort.
May we have a moment of your time?
Our public funding only covers some of the cost of producing high-quality, balanced content. We depend on the generosity of people who believe we all should have access to accurate, fair journalism. Caring people just like you!
Get Current Affairs & Documentaries email updates in your inbox every morning.