Wynne muses on feelings and the fight to save the Grits' green legacy

Wynne muses on feelings and the fight to save the Grits’ green legacy

With hours to go until voting day and public-opinion polls notching her party a distant third for most of the last month, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne is acknowledging the tough emotional moment she’s come to in the campaign.

“It is hard,” she said on Wednesday as her campaign wound down ahead of election day on Thursday. “Of course it’s emotional. There will be lots of emotional moments today and tomorrow, for sure.”

The five-year premier stressed she remains focused on a vision of “progress” for the province, not her own feelings. Whether it’s possible to untangle that vision from the burden of handing over a 15-year Grit dynasty to a rival party – which Wynne predicted Saturday – was tough to discern.

“Dynasty’s a big word,” she said, chuckling. “It’s a big concept."

“My sincere hope is that we’re not ending anything,” she added. Underscoring “fundamental … achievements” on the environment, education, health care and the economy, Wynne warned that the Grits’ green legacy “could so easily be turned back” by a Progressive Conservative government.

Despite that possibility, Wynne again refused to consider urging Ontario's 10-million-plus potential voters to cast their ballots strategically – a word she deployed in 2014 to persuade Ontarians to swing Liberal.

She cited “fundamental differences” between Grits and Dippers, noting NDP opposition to back-to-work legislation and wariness of public-private partnerships. “That’s not a small difference between us and the NDP. The notion that we’re just the same in terms of our belief system, it’s just not true.”

Standing on the terrace of a social housing co-op where last August Housing Minister Peter Milczyn and Toronto Mayor John Tory pledged  $657 million for green upgrades – to be funded through cap-and-trade proceeds – Wynne also invoked the spectre of former Tory premier Mike Harris in almost apocalyptic terms.

“If this were 2005, there’s a good chance that on a warmer June day, we would have had a smog advisory. Toxic chemicals would have been spreading all across the province, jeopardizing people’s health. Kids with asthma would have been filling up the ER and schools would have been cancelling recess,” Wynne said. “Some days, it was downright dangerous to be outside.”

The Liberals, she pointed out in her remarks Wednesday morning, created the Greenbelt, nurtured a clean-tech industry and linked up with the Quebec-California carbon market.

That legacy may prove to be a liability with some voters: PC Leader Doug Ford has labelled the slew of green contracts with wind and solar companies as wasteful; and the wind turbines that Wynne's bus passed in southwestern Ontario Wednesday as tributes to progress run amok. Ford has seized on high electricity bills and executive compensation at Hydro One, promising to cut rates, boot the CEO and axe cap and trade. Meanwhile, the cancellation of two GTA gas plants in 2010-11 at a cost of more than $1 billion refuses to fade as one of the signature scandals of the Liberal era.

Wynne used her final day on the campaign trail for a “clean air” swing through Port Dover — part of Haldiman—Norfolk, where PC MPP Toby Barrett has won every election since 1995 — and Nanticoke, once home to the heaviest-polluting coal-fired plant in Ontario, now decommissioned and destined for conversion to a solar farm. Wynne also stopped off in Burlington, where Liberal MPP Eleanor McMahon faces a tough rematch against star PC candidate Jane McKenna, who represented the riding from 2011 to 2014.

Touching on global climate change, Wynne said Ford “denies that threat” — evoking, but not explicitly stating, the notion of a climate-change denier, which Ford is not. She called him “short-sighted” and “counterproductive,” saying his plans to scrap regulations and cap and trade are “jeopardizing” Ontarians’ environmental future.

“We have come a long way since 2005, but Doug Ford wants to turn that car right around and drive backwards,” Wynne said.

She will cast a ballot in her home riding of Don Valley West Thursday. Ground zero for the Liberals come election night will be the York Mills Gallery event space, where Wynne will camp out as the results roll in.

Christopher Reynolds

QP BRIEFING Reporter

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