POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne to become Ontario's first woman premier on Feb. 11

01/31/2013 09:25 EST | Updated 04/02/2013 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - Ontario will get its 25th premier and a brand new cabinet on Feb. 11, just a week before the legislature is set to re-open.

But premier-designate Kathleen Wynne was tight-lipped Thursday about what that new government will look like once Premier Dalton McGuinty officially resigns.

She wouldn't say who would be added or dropped from the front benches as the governing Liberals get ready to face two feisty opposition parties in a minority parliament.

"You know what, stay tuned. We're just in the process of putting that together," she said after meeting Thursday with McGuinty and Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

"What you'll see is a strong cabinet, a strong government because ... I know the times call for a firm hand and that is exactly what we're going to provide."

The meeting with Onley kickstarted the process of formally transferring power from McGuinty to Wynne, who won the Liberal leadership on Saturday. Ontario's vice-regal asked Wynne to form a government and announced the date for her to be sworn in with her new cabinet.

Wynne has said there's room for all the leadership candidates around the cabinet table. But those who threw their support behind her at the convention could get plum jobs.

Former banker Charles Sousa and celebrated humanitarian Eric Hoskins are both sitting MPPs with cabinet experience. The other candidate, Gerard Kennedy, doesn't have a seat. Harinder Takhar, another former minister who supported runner-up Sandra Pupatello, could stay on as well if Wynne lives up to her promise.

The new cabinet will have just seven days to prepare a throne speech for the opening of the legislature, then finish putting together a budget before the fiscal year ends Mar. 31.

Wynne promised to "hit the ground running," eliminating the $12-billion deficit by 2017-18 while addressing social issues like affordable housing and helping welfare recipients find jobs.

"It is obviously critical that we tackle the deficit and we get to the point where we can be paying down the debt," she said.

The incoming premier acknowledged she's not partial to casinos, which are big cash cows for the provincial government, but will let municipalities decide whether they want them. One could be built in Toronto if city council decides to go ahead with it.

"You all know that I'm not a fan of casinos, I'm not a fan of gambling," she said.

"We have them and they are here, and municipalities have to weigh the pros and cons and they have to make a decision for themselves about whether they want a casino or not."

One decision she has made is that she doesn't want to move into the Liberal-owned house in Toronto purchased for McGuinty, who has said he plans to keep his seat of Ottawa-South until the next election.

The premier-to-be is expected to continue living in the basement apartment she shares with her partner Jane Rounthwaite while their new home is under renovation.

"I'm actually going to be living in my riding," said Wynne, 59, who represents the Toronto seat of Don Valley West.

"As far as I know, they've told me I can't drive, but they haven't told me I have to leave my house. Once it's renovated and I can actually move in, then I'm going to stay in my house."

Wynne, who's barely taken a break since her leadership victory, said giving up the car keys will be the biggest adjustment for her personally.

She was provided with a car and driver while serving as a cabinet minister, but she drove on the weekends, she said.

"I've been driving since I was 19 years old, and you can all calculate how many years that is," Wynne joked.