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Kathleen Wynne Is a Champion For Women and LGBT Groups But No One Else

04/21/2015 01:11 EDT | Updated 06/21/2015 05:59 EDT
GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne , the first openly gay premier of Ontario, waves as she marches in the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto, Canada, June 29, 2014. WorldPride is an event that promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT pride) issues on an international level through parades, festivals and other cultural activities. 2014 host Toronto is the first WorldPride celebration ever held in North America, and the 4th such festival in the world. AFP PHOTO / Geoff ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

It's been two years since Kathleen Wynne broke the proverbial glass ceiling when she became Ontario's first female premier in 2013. She is also the first openly gay politician to reach this level. (Québec's André Boisclair was the first openly gay politician to win the leadership of a Canadian party with legislative representation in 2005.)

Wynne ascended to power by winning over the small clique of Liberal Party members who can afford leadership conference fees and travel expenses. Both Ontario women and LGBT communities rejoiced at this opportunity to have, for the first time, one of their own at the seat of power. Wynne's consecration came a year later, when she was soundly elected to a majority government.

She says she feels a special responsibility to young gay people who are looking for the possibility that there might be a more accepting world somewhere.

Wynne wasted no time in implementing her agenda to right past wrongs omissions to her demographic dearies. Many women's and LGBT-friendly initiatives which had been floating around Queens Park for years finally bore fruit under Premier Wynne's leadership.

Balancing the Boardroom

Recognizing the enduring under-representation of women in corporate boards, Wynne forced all Ontario corporations to report their gender breakdown. Women account for more than half the population, but only 14 per cent of all board seats in Canada's 500 largest organizations.

"In 2011, 43% of companies listed on TSX had no female board members. We're taking action to fix this." Wynne via Twitter

In addition, visible minorities fare even worse, proportionally speaking: less than five per cent of board members are visible minorities, though the demographic accounts for over a quarter of Ontario residents.

With the flick of a pen, two extra words would have sufficed to include Ontario's visible minorities in Wynne's deficient "diversity" policy. In this instance, the Wynne government elected to keep minorities, aboriginals and disabled persons at the back of the opportunity bus.

LGBT Equality

Premier Wynne wielded her power to address long-standing unfairness towards another minority group of which she is a member. The Wynne government updated the Health and Physical Education Curriculum. It had been a quarter century since Ontario pried open the school books. In a brave move, Wynne spilled her political capital to arm students with facts about sexual heath, consent and responsibility. It also lifts the curriculum's veil on homosexuality, which, predictably, has drawn the ire of the Religious Right.

"Our government believes it is time to modernize the curriculum and ensure that children have access to accurate information. Our children's safety depends on providing them with the best information about their health and well-being. [...] Ontario students deserve and need a [...] curriculum that provides them with the skills they need in today's complex and ever-changing world."
Liz Sandals, Minister of Education

Seeing as though multicultural illiteracy and systemic racial discrimination are dangers to the well-being of visible minority students, the general discourse seemed thoroughly focused on anything but. The Education Ministry itself settled a Human Rights issue in 2007 over a policy that punished visible minority and disabled students disproportionately. Last year, a Toronto school ignored racial slurs against Muslim students.

"There are a lot of difficult conversations we need to have. And race is certainly one of them."
Barbara Hall, Human Rights Commissioner of Ontario

Once again, the well-being of visible minorities fell by the wayside.

In another bold move, Premier Wynne's activist agenda splashed across the province on International Women's Day. Wynne unveiled an action plan coupled with measuring sticks, new legislation and $41 million in funding.

"As a woman, ending sexual violence and harassment is a cause I feel strongly about. [...] Everyone [...] is a clarion call to all Ontarians to help end misogyny."
Premier Wynne

In all the self-congratulatory hoopla, visible minorities were overlooked. Again.

People of colour and hijab-wearing Muslim-Canadian women face acute harassment that falls outside the sort explicitly described in Wynne's plan.

In 2013, a pregnant woman was repeatedly attacked by a jogger -- not due to her gender, but because her religion was identifiable.

During Toronto's 2014 municipal elections, Olivia Chow and a number of Muslim women candidates faced undue hatred and verbal abuse. In another incident, a man spit on a woman wearing a hijab.

Recognizing that existing laws and regulations are not enough, Wynne's appetite for redress left out too many vulnerable women.

#WhoWillYouHelp: A Self-Incriminating Hashtag

Premier Wynne's rare effort to spread her goodwill to women of colour was exhibited in her full-throated defence of an Administrative Internship Pilot Program. The Ontario Public Service one-year internship opportunity was restricted to a grand total of ten (10) people.

"[Am I supposed] to vote for Hillary because she is a woman; will she take us to the mountaintop with her or will women of color once again be left out and left behind?"
Jada Pinkett Smith

The hashtag #WhoWillYouHelp is designed to encourage bystanders to engage when witnessing gender-based violence and harassment. But for visible minorities, the slogan is just another reminder that "there are limited seats at the table for those of us who fall into the category of other."

As a candidate, Wynne reached out to visible minorities on her way to the mountain top. Then she forgot about them.

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