By Doug Hallett
If local MPP Liz Sandals expects to be in cabinet by the end of the week, she’s not letting on.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I always say – the premier will make the decision,” Sandals said with a chuckle Monday morning when asked about the prospects for her getting her first cabinet post.
It’s an obvious question, given that Sandals was an early supporter of Kathleen Wynne’s bid to replace Dalton McGuinty as Liberal leader and premier.
Sandals has also had a long, close association with Ontario’s new premier.
She was Wynne’s parliamentary assistant when Wynne was education minister, and she moved with her when Wynne later took on the transportation portfolio.
Sandals won’t have long to wait to find out, as she expects Wynne to name her new cabinet this week. Wynne plans to reconvene the legislature on Feb. 19, and the two main opposition parties will have a chance to bring the government down quickly and force an election when her government delivers its speech from the throne.
A vote on that speech, which sets out the new government’s agenda, is considered a confidence vote that the government must win to survive.
“It is certainly our preference to make minority government work,” Sandals said in an interview.
She’s pinning her hopes on cooperation with the NDP, whose leader Andrea Horwath sounded “more conciliatory” after Wynne’s victory than did Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, she said.
She said she has little hope of cooperation with the PC party, which launched attack ads against Wynne on radio and online on Sunday morning.
Sandals said her interpretation of the launch of the attack ads is that the PCs have decided Hudak “is not selling” with the Ontario public and “the only thing that sells is beating us up.”
Hudak “has a new person to beat up, and that is his schtick . . . Unfortunately, I’m not surprised by it, because it is consistent with Conservative tactics since (the last election in) October 2011. Their entire approach has been to go negative,” she said.
A PC news release issued on Sunday morning said the purpose of its advertisements on local radio stations and online was “to share the simple truth about Kathleen Wynne’s record.”
Sandals said she thinks Wynne’s “amazing speech” to convention delegates on Saturday morning made a big difference in her dramatic win later in the day. Delegates followed their candidates to support Wynne “because she had performed so strongly earlier in the day.”
Sandals said she doesn’t think the facts that Wynne lives in Toronto and is openly gay will hurt her chances of leading the Liberals to victory in the next election.
“Honestly, I don’t see her as strictly a Toronto candidate,” she said.
Although Wynne lives downtown now, she grew up in Richmond Hill when it was a small town rather than part of the big city, Sandals said.
As well, she said, Wynne got to know school board trustees and municipal councillors across the province during her stints as Minister of Education and Minister of Municipal Affairs. Wynne got delegate support from all over Ontario, said Sandals.
“She knows people and has connections across the province . . . She is probably the most knowledgeable candidate (of those who ran for the Liberal leadership) of all parts of Ontario,” Sandals said.
As for Wynne’s sexuality, Sandals said she expects this will be a topic of discussion only for a week or so. Wynne’s seat is in a “highly multicultural” riding in Toronto, where all sorts of people voted for her, she said.
Sandals said one of her black colleagues noted that it was said until recently that the United States wouldn’t elect a black president.
“I think this is the same. Have a little faith in Ontario voters,” Sandals said of Wynne’s sexuality.
Among the party leaders commenting on Wynne’s victory was Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner, who will run in the Guelph riding in the next provincial election.
“It’s good to know that Ms. Wynne is committed to recalling the legislature so that the people elected to govern Ontario can get back to work. It is important to get our democratic institutions working,” Schreiner said.
“As leader of the Green Party of Ontario, I look forward to working with Ms. Wynne on addressing the major challenges we face,” he said. “The Green Party will push to address climate change with a jobs plan that makes Ontario a global leader in clean tech, modernize our education system to create the best future for our kids, and develop neighbourhoods that are safe to live, work and play.”