In the final days of Ontario’s election campaign, Kathleen Wynne can expect to be asked repeatedly why voters should trust her. Given the amount of cynicism caused by the mess she inherited from Dalton McGuinty, that subject was already going to come up a lot; it’s all the more top of mind now that the gas-plants scandal is back in the news.
But for all the inevitability of that question, Ms. Wynne still struggles to provide a compelling answer to it. That was obvious during Tuesday’s leaders’ debate, when her opponents effectively put it to her in less polite ways. And it was apparent again during her visit on Thursday to The Globe and Mail’s editorial board.
On policy questions, whatever one thinks of her arguments, she tends to come off more genuine than most politicians – thoughtfully offering her perspective rather than just cycling through a few memorized talking points. But her tendency to think aloud and plunge into bureaucratese can lead to some weirdly dispassionate responses on a topic that could use some emotional connection.
During that editorial-board meeting, the question was put (not by me) to Ms. Wynne very directly: “Why should we trust you?” Here, for the record, is how she answered:
“Well…You will make the choice, as a voter. But what I would bring to you is my record as an individual politician, so the work that I have done in my political career as a minister of education, as a minister of municipal affairs and housing and transportation and aboriginal affairs, and then I would ask you to look at the work that I’ve done over the last 16 months, where I said coming into this job that there were issues confronting us, that there were changes that needed to be made.
“Obviously, the question that comes up over and over again – that question is usually related to the relocation of the gas plants. I came in knowing that I was going to have to open up the process and put in place a better process – not just around getting the information out, but also around locating that kind of infrastructure, making those kinds of decisions in the future. And so we have changed the rules – I’ve brought in legislation that would change the accountability and would change the way decisions are made and respect the community process. So you could look at the changes I’ve made, you could look at my personal record, and then you’d make that decision.”
Now, it’s entirely possible that you’ll look at that answer and see someone who communicates in an honest way, without falling back on rehearsed lines or rhetorical flourish. Her staff would argue that the understated nature of her response is the way to go, because coming on too strong on this subject would be highly unappealing to potential supporters still angry with her party for its transgressions.
To me, though, it looks a bit like conceding that she’ s not in a great position to expect a lot of trust. This is one instance in which doing a little more to prepare an answer might have done her some favours.