December 9, 2019
Good evening everyone. Thank you so very much to Kara and her team.
Bon soiree tout le monde. Bienvenue a Queen’s Park et merci pour votre presence. C’est un grande honneur d’etre ice parmi vous.
This is a bit of a breathtaking experience being here with all of you tonight. Let me first thank the Premier and Her Honour, the Lieutenant-Governor for their remarks and thank you to Party Leaders Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner for being here tonight.
It is at moments like these that I am deeply appreciative of the grace of formality that allows us to put aside partisanship, personal triumph or injury and place ourselves in the story of our province. It seems a strange contradiction that that very formality frees us to be more human by removing the rancour of the day.
And so I thank you all so very much for being here tonight.
It seems to me that there are basically two groups of guests here tonight. One group of you is here because you are students of history. You want to bear witness to this ritual as a current or former MPP, or a former Premier who has already been ‘hung’ or as an officer of the Legislature or as a member of the media. It is a privilege to be here with you.
These words of Nelson Mandela explain why the rest of you are here:
In Africa there is a concept known as ubuntu—the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievement of others.
It is through your humanity, your work, your love that I am standing here. You are my story. You are my mother, my sisters, my children, my spouse (and former spouse), my grandchildren, my family. You are my trusted friends, staff and colleagues who have advised, cajoled, confronted and campaigned with me over my entire political career.
Anything I have accomplished in this world is in equal measure due to the work and achievement of all of us together.
Let me talk about the reason we are here tonight. I asked Linda Kooluris-Dobbs to paint this portrait for a number of reasons. She is a brilliantly talented artist, a delightfully gregarious and loving spirit.
Linda, thank you and whatever the critics say, I am grateful to you.
There are different styles of portraiture in these hallowed halls. Some of the paintings present only the person; I can say the man, alone. Other paintings offer more clues to the personality, the life, the values of the subject. My portrait is one of those.
I didn’t really keep my running shoes right by my desk but in truth, they were and are part of all of my days. They took me into the dark, cold mornings to clear my head and prepare for the day ahead.
I entered provincial politics because of my abiding belief in the power of publicly funded education. It is the most fundamental building block of our democracy. School is the place where our multicultural society has the best chance to be nurtured. If we have any hope of ever finally realizing that just society of our dreams, it will be because all children have equal access to education. And so the school bell that I was given when I was a school trustee rests on the desk as a symbol of the classroom and of the very first order of government created in this country—the school board.
The books piled on the desk are not random. They are a biography of Pierre Trudeau who first came to office as PM when I was 15 years old. It was his vision of a just society that helped me first articulate my political beliefs.
There is a slim volume of pictures of Kenora/Lake of the Woods just at the Manitoba border. Ontario is a wondrously beautiful geography and the northwest is big, complicated, challenged and beautiful all at the same time. Just like Ontario.
There is a volume on Lesbian Parenting to which Jane and I contributed a chapter. The book is there on the desk because the people of Ontario, in their openness to difference, elected an openly gay woman to be their Premier.
And there is a local history of the Town of Richmond Hill north of Toronto—my hometown.
The canoe was a gift from the Mattawa/North Bay Nation on the occasion of the signing of an Agreement in Principle between the Algonquins of Ontario, the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario in 2016.
The eagle feather was a gift from Sylvia Maracle on the day I was sworn in as Premier in February, 2013. Sylvia has fought for the rights of urban Indigenous people for decades. She brought a troupe of women drummers to the floor of the Legislature that day. She sat with Jane and me before the ceremony and I drew strength from her. Throughout my term I drew strength from Indigenous women like Chief Ava Hill, Chief Denise Stonefish, Metis Nation President Margaret Froh, Dawn Harvard. I learned from all of them as I did my utmost to move us closer to reconciliation and to a relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that is honest, healthy and respectful.
I found few quiet moments in my days as Premier but sometimes before walking out into the fray, the eagle feather calmed me—brought me back to myself, helped me remember that whatever was happening in the news, whatever the conflict of the day, whatever the pressing decision I had to make, I was not alone and that if I trusted the Spirit, the God, the Creator, the Earth—however you name the life force—in me, I would find the strength to do what I needed to do.
There are tulips in the picture. They are beautiful and they are there as a symbol of the Netherlands. The three years I spent living in Holland changed my life in many ways. First and foremost, I left Canada in 1979 with no children and returned in 1982 with two so that was the most obvious change. But more than that I had the opportunity to live in a society for those three years that paid much closer attention to the environment, to conservation, innovation, public transit, equitable, affordable housing and community health care.
Throughout my political career I have drawn on those lessons over and over again—from action on climate change to investment in public transit. The argument that the point of comparison for Canadian society had to be the United States has always made sense to me because of our geography but in terms of our sensibility as a people, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to draw on the best examples wherever we find them.
The pictures on the shelf are the people of my heart. My three grandchildren, Olivia, Claire and Hugh. They are pure joy.
My three children, Christopher, Jessica and Maggie. The children of politicians are, by definition, in the public eye. They do not choose to lose their privacy or to stand by the ideas, words, actions of their mother.
My kids have backed me up from the beginning. Their support has taken different forms—Chris actively involved in my campaigns, developing skills and strategies for other campaigns and organizatons now, Jess and Mags great door knockers but over the years helping me to stay grounded, reminding me when I was disappearing from the family and pulling me back to them.
As politicians we want our children to share in the excitement of success but to be protected from the pain of failure. Sadly, that is impossible and so I am so grateful for their love and support—I hope it’s some consolation that you all have superior organizing chops!
And Jane. There is none of this—there is no Premier Kathleen Wynne, no political career or success without Jane. Her humanity, her humour, her ability to keep a list, her tolerance of my rants about policy, her commitment to fairness, her willingness to bear misogyny and homophobia, her sharp tongue, her tolerance of my sleepless nights made it possible for me to be the 25th Premier of Ontario.
And the scarf. Why the scarf thrown across the arm of the chair? Because I am the first woman to be Premier. When school groups go through Queen’s Park from now on, little girls, young woman do not have to assume they are not welcome. They can now assume that it is possible for them to be whom they choose to be and do what they choose to do. Of course not all of the children who pass through here want to be Premier. But that is not the point. The point is that before today, the possibility of a woman in the job has not been visible to the children of Ontario. That is the reason I wanted to get this portrait completed as quickly as possible—to miss as few school groups, as few young girls and their boy classmates, as possible. (I also said to Linda that I didn’t want my wrinkles painted over so we needed to get on it as the aging I see in the mirror is like time lapse photography these days.)
But that doesn’t fully explain the scarf. Throughout my political career there were discussions about how to dress, how to present myself—hair, make-up, shoes, suits, colour. One of the last discussions we had was about scarves—should I wear them or not? Did people think they make me look too fancy? Too much colour? Too floppy? The scarf is in the picture because I love scarves. I love the flash of colour. I love the softness. I love that you can get beautiful scarves for under $10. And many times in our diverse province, I would find myself in a situation where I would place that scarf over my hair as a sign of respect. I am a woman. I have the right to aspire to political office whether I am wearing a scarf or not.
And so does every child in this province.
In my time as Premier, I did my best to build on the legacy of the builders who came before. The men and women who had a vision of a strong, diverse, innovative economy that includes everyone, provides education and healthcare and social support to all. An economy that recognizes the regional diversity and strength of this province, une economie qui reconnait le fait que si la francophonie est forte, Ontario est plus fort, the terrible injustice perpetrated against Indigenous people, the need for continued progress on care for our youngest children and our oldest citizens; the pressing need to reduce human impact on the Earth and push back climate change.
And an economy that recognizes that if we, this tiny population in this huge geography, are to compete in this world, we have to be at our best. Everyone needs a shot at a great education, women living in violence need to be protected and supported and people struggling with addiction and mental illness have a right to expect help not vilification.
In the spring of 1966, Lester B. Pearson was Canada’s Prime Minister and John Robarts was Ontario’s Premier. I was in the Grade 8 classroom of Mr. Garlick (that was really his name) at M.L.McConaghy School. Our desks were turned to face each other in the style of Parliament or the Legislature and we had divided ourselves into Parties according to our own choice. There were more than 30 Progressive Conservatives, 4 Liberals and 1 NDP member as I remember it. I had no thought as I sat in that small Liberal Caucus of running for office and the make-up of that mock Parliament surely said more about the convictions of our parents than about our own views of the world.
And though I have forgotten more about the details of my life than I remember, I remember sitting in that desk as a Liberal.
Some combination of factors in my life lead me to this office. Some combination of experiences convinced me that we can continue to make progress; that government has an important role to play in people’s lives; that the most vulnerable people in our world need our love and attention. We are in this together and I am so grateful to all of you for being part of this journey.
As I said to a reporter last week, many more people will forget me than will remember me but this picture captures one moment in Ontario’s story. I look forward to a time when the portraits of our Premiers reflect all the beautiful diversity of this province we love.
Merci. Migwetch Nia:wen.