Kathleen Wynne arrives in Little Current, Manitoulin Island, in a big black SUV, surrounded by all the trappings of being premier of Ontario. There are the omnipresent staffers who do the advance work and try to keep her on schedule. And there is the Ontario Provincial Police security detail trying to look unobtrusive but not quite succeeding.
Wynne has decided to drop in on the Manitoulin Country Fest. It’s a blazingly hot day on the world’s largest freshwater island, and probably the last thing on anyone’s mind in this town of 2,700 people is politics. A smallish crowd has come to hear country music, and while Wynne doesn’t want to interrupt their enjoyment of the day, this is Day Two of her current northern swing.
And so, she will do the thing she is so good at ̶ shake some hands, make small talk with the locals, meet some island politicians, hear about their concerns, check out what’s on offer at the booths, and listen.
Wynne’s ability to empathize with a sizeable chunk of the Ontario public is what, in large measure, brought her to the premier’s office in 2013, and if she’s going to stay there, she knows she has to continue to convince Ontarians that in spite of all her big ideas about cap-and-trade pollution control, massive infrastructure investment, and progress on social justice issues, she still understands their daily travails and is for them.
But her northern swing comes at a delicate time. For the third time in the last half century, the north’s disaffection for Queen’s Park has bubbled up in the form of a new political party, quite simply called the Northern Ontario Party. It’s now an officially registered entity, and aims to run candidates in the 11 northern ridings in the 2018 Ontario election.
At first blush, one wonders why these political winds would be blowing so strongly right now. After all, hasn’t Ontario seen this movie before? In the 1970s, the new Northern Ontario Heritage Party tried to strike fear into Premier Bill Davis’s government, but the effort fell flat.
In 1990, the new Confederation of Regions Party captured some attention and a lot of votes actually ̶ 21 per cent of the vote in Sault Ste. Marie; 18 per cent of the vote in Nickel Belt, outside Sudbury. But again, the protest movement fizzled without electing a single member. But it sure did make a lot of people concerned thanks to part of its message, which was virulently anti-French.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://tvo.org/blog/current-affairs/can-kathleen-wynne-handle-northern-ontarios-growing-discontent-