Kathleen Wynne hasn’t shown up at Queen’s Park yet — but that’s no reason to be nasty

By Steve Paikin - Published on July 16, 2018
Kathleen Wynne faced intense antipathy during the 2018 Ontario election campaign. (Frank Gunn/CP)

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I know it hasn’t been that long. But let’s remind everyone of what happened on June 7.

The Progressive Conservatives won a majority government, their first in nearly 20 years. The sitting premier led her Liberals to their worst showing ever — just seven seats.

The Liberals no longer have recognized-party status at Queen’s Park.

You may remember that similar events befell the federal Progressive Conservatives in 1993. After nine years in power, that party was reduced to just two seats — again, a defeat of historic proportions.

But I seem to recall that most of the winners then, rather than pile on, responded with a modicum of class. After all, it was less than a decade earlier that the Liberals had experienced their worst showing ever — just 40 seats in the 1984 election, which the Tories won handily.

Then-prime minister Jean Chrétien even gave the humiliated Kim Campbell, whom he had defeated, some dignity by appointing her Canada’s consul general in Los Angeles.

But we now live in an era in which anyone can go on Twitter and say any damned thing about anyone without giving it too much thought.

That’s what many Ontarians did last week when they learned that former premier Kathleen Wynne did not show up at Queen’s Park to vote for the new Speaker of the legislature or to hear the new government’s first speech from the throne. (She also was absent for question period today, the first of this 42nd parliament.)

“As a resident of #DVW [Don Valley West, Wynne’s riding], @Kathleen_Wynne @TeamWynne should either represent us in Queen's Park or quit and let us pick a better representative. But quitting while remaining on the job is wrong and a betrayal of #DVW constituents,” tweeted Evan Kanter, president of the Don Valley West PC Youth Association. 

And there was more.

“Is she still on vacation?” asked Ginny Balfour. “Why doesn’t she just resign her seat?”

“Did she not say that she would be staying on as an elected member and would represent her riding?” added Pat Suddes.

Two other tweeters made the obligatory jokes about Wynne’s new lack of a car and driver. “She is still standing at the curb waiting for a driver,” wrote Tim Little. Ash Floyd went further:

“Maybe she is bitter that she does not have a driver anymore.”

Anyone who followed the recent provincial campaign knows that there was intense antipathy to Wynne and her Liberals, and the election-night results speak for themselves. Having said that, does it not behoove Ontarians to show a bit of grace — even on social media?

We might consider that Wynne has probably never experienced something so personally damaging as what she endured on election night, and she might actually need some time away from the legislature to heal.

We might also consider that, by absenting herself from last week’s proceedings, she did her successor, Premier Doug Ford, a solid. The new PC government was able to bask in its victory without having to share the spotlight with the defeated premier.

We’re into somewhat uncharted territory here, given that no provincial government (at least in my lifetime) has ever been so thoroughly repudiated. Yes, Bob Rae was defeated in 1995 — and, yes, he did show up for routine proceedings after that defeat. But Rae’s defeat wasn’t a humiliation: the NDP retained official-party status, having won 17 seats. And Rae’s party begged him to stick around rather than quit (indeed, he didn’t resign as NDP leader until 1996). No one has been asking Wynne to stay on as leader.

In 2013, Dalton McGuinty stepped down as premier, and Wynne succeeded him. McGuinty decided to avoid Queen’s Park (except for some votes) in order to give his successor the space she needed to rebrand her party. I don’t recall anyone accusing McGuinty of shirking his responsibilities. In fact, staying away was considered the right thing to do, not to mention the politically savvy one.

In 2003, it was Ernie Eves who found himself in a situation similar to Wynne’s — he was a defeated premier who’d retained his seat. He would hold on to it for a year after the loss, but he certainly wasn’t as present at Queen’s Park as he had been as premier.

Going even further back, Bill Davis retired in February 1985 after 14 years as premier, but he remained an MPP until the election that May. He attended no routine proceedings after Frank Miller was sworn in as his successor. And no one made a stink about it.

(Having said that, when Leslie Frost resigned as premier in 1961, he not only stayed on as a backbench MPP until the 1963 election, but he also maintained a sparkling attendance record.)

All of which is to say, there are no hard-and-fast rules for ex-premiers when it comes to attendance. They’ve got to do what feels right, and most observers are gracious enough to cut them some slack, given what they’ve been through. Leaving the premier’s office is an emotionally difficult thing to do — whether you choose to do it yourself or the electorate chooses for you.   

This may be a futile hope, but in an era in which civil discourse is too often drowned out by vicious accusations, would it kill us to be more gracious to someone who has faced such a humiliating defeat? Kathleen Wynne will show up at Queen’s Park soon enough. Shouldn’t we give her at least some time to lick her wounds before she comes back?

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