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Yes, I'm a Woman Who Can Run the Economy

09/26/2013 08:29 EDT | Updated 11/26/2013 05:12 EST

On Sept. 23, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne received the EVE award from Equal Voice, a national, multi-partisan advocacy group of more than 1,200 Canadians who are devoted to the idea that more women must be elected to political office at all levels of government. The group recognizes outstanding women who have made a significant contribution to the advancement of women in public life. What follows is an edited excerpt of Ms. Wynne's acceptance speech.

Last February, I became the first female Premier of Ontario. And I received that honour after engaging in a serious, thoughtful and spirited leadership race in which the other top contender was the impressive, incomparable Sandra Pupatello. After taking office, I was able to see my friend and colleague Deb Matthews - who is here with us as well - sworn in as my Deputy Premier. In the spring, I engaged in serious budget negotiations with Andrea Horwath, the leader of the NDP and last year's recipient of this award.

Our discussions, and the budget that was passed through our minority legislature as a result, are producing real progress for the people of this province. And over the summer, I was lucky enough to host the Council of the Federation, a meeting of provincial and territorial leaders that - for the first time ever - had almost equal representation between men and women: There were six female Premiers there. And so I've had a front row seat on some really proud moments, ones that mean a lot to me and to Ontario.

But let's step back from the personal and ask ourselves: Why is this representation important? Why is it so essential to all of us that there are women in these roles and that we continue to draw more women into the political process, as voters, as candidates, as leaders?

It is not just for the sake of tokenism, it is not in pursuit of some abstract goal. It's because of the impact we can make. It's about our relationship to the issues and our approach we take to overcoming each challenge. It has been said that 30 per cent female representation would allow for a "critical mass" that would make a visible impact on the style and content of political decisions. That is the goal. We want to get there because of the nature of the work we will be able to do. The changes we will be able to make. That is our motivation.

To get there, there is work to be done. We need to blow up the myths that still block paths and undermine aspiration. One of the myths I'm dealing with right now is the idea that a female leader cannot make a forceful, positive impact as a steward of the economy. People will say to me, flat out: "Kathleen, we know you care about people, but we're not sure you can run the economy." It's tempting to quote Sheryl Sandberg here and the need to "lean in" to criticism like this. But I'm going to quote a Canadian leader instead, that other, earlier Trudeau: "Just watch me."

I know I can make tough decisions, I know I can attract business to Ontario and be the leader our economy needs. But we also need to blow up the myth that dealing with the economy - that finding solutions for this province and this unique time - is some abstract financial exercise unconnected to the realities of our lives.

We know that's not true. Women know that's not true. We understand that the social supports we offer, the housing we build, the education system we support, the opportunities we give people to live well, and work hard and do their best: those things are absolutely tied to our economic prospects. The realities of our economic climate are writ large on the lives of women in this province - in the jobs prospects of their children; in their ability to care for their parents; in their retirement savings; in the amount of time it takes them to get to and from work.

All of these issues are apparent to women as economic issues, not social issues, not women's issues. And if we address these challenges, we will create jobs, feed our economy and ensure Ontario's continued success. And so you're going to hear me talk about this a lot.

I have a plan to feed the economy and it does not rely on slashing services or cutting programming. It's about investing in people: their skills, their ideas, their capacity for greatness. It's about building the transit and infrastructure that this province needs to move around. So women don't have to sit through a two hour commute to get to their jobs and back again to their kids. And it's about creating a dynamic, innovative environment where businesses can flourish, where we broaden people's horizons.

As a woman, as the Premier, I'm going to change the way we approach our economic challenges because I understand how intrinsically our economy relates to real people, real life. That's my motivation. That's my drive.

And when I see the kids up in the north of this province who have no hope of getting a job if our resource development plan in the Ring of Fire doesn't go through, or I sit through presentations about addressing the poverty gap and I think about women who are choosing between paying their bills and feeding their kids, you'd better believe I'm committed to fixing the economy.

I am so thankful to receive this award. And I am committed to being a part of this cause and using my actions, my approach and my tone to attract more women into politics. But I know it will not always be easy. We are here today at the invitation of Equal Voice, but I know from experience that it is not always enough to simply raise your voice. Sometimes it's also important to plug your ears. We have to tune out the people who say we can't get there.

In my career I have refused to listen to prevailing political wisdom, to the people who told me what kind of name they needed on the ballot to win, the things I was lacking as a candidate. And if we want to see more women in public life, if we want to raise our numbers and increase our impact at every level of political office in this land, then I think we're going to have to encourage women not to listen to those who tell them it can't be done. We have to shatter the myths put forward by experts, strategists, consultants and talking heads - those who say they know who can win and how.

Those people did not think I could win. Right from day one, they didn't want me. I wanted to run in my home riding, Don Valley West. Because I am gay, these experts did not think I could win in North Toronto. They wanted me to run in a more "downtown" riding. These same people will tell women that they need a lot of money, or a certain background, or the right connections. That they should cede the way to a "star candidate."

Not one of those things is true and if we want more successful women candidates we need to drown out that noise - those deterrents - with stories of how it can be done. How it has been done. And so I will tell those stories and I will dedicate myself to showing the difference we can make, the impact we can have. And the real lives we can improve in everything we do.

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