TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals may be facing a sea of troubles, but Premier Kathleen Wynne wants them to keep smiling.
The "looming" threat isn't a spring election, but a "toxic political environment," Wynne said Wednesday night at a major party fundraiser in Toronto.
Voters will tune out if they see a provincial politicians being vicious and wilfully partisan, she said.
"We'll all do better if people see the political spectrum reflected in their elected representatives as a tool to hash out real solutions, and not as a weapon with which we vilify one another," she told the crowd.
Smiling, listening and being gracious, even when you disagree with the other side, is the way to make real progress in confronting the "true obstacles of our time," from a sluggish economy to the deterioration of transportation infrastructure, Wynne said.
"Goodness knows, there will be many times when I will disagree with the opposition," she said. There will be tough choices to make, but we'll continue to smile."
It's unclear whether Wynne's optimism will be enough keep the minority Liberals afloat.
The Conservatives are clamouring for an election, while the New Democrats have made it clear they won't support the spring budget unless their numerous demands are met.
The minority Liberals are also under fire for the cancellation of two gas plants, which they insisted for months would cost $230 million. Experts now peg the costs at about $828 million.
A top executive of the Ontario Power Authority said the Liberals would have seen a memo showing the costs for cancelling the Oakville plant in 2010 would have been higher than the $40 million figure they told the public.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats have always disputed the $40 million figure, especially after the Liberals said it cost $190 million to scrap another gas plant in neighbouring Mississauga just days before the 2011 election.
But Wynne said she's not being naive in sticking to the message that Liberals should forge ahead with a smile despite the mistakes they've made. It's what people need if they're going to believe in politics, she said.
"It's the way I arm myself in that environment," Wynne said.
"When I stand up in the legislature, I think having a sense of humour and being able to see how to hold on to the core of the issue — even when there's all sorts of rhetoric and negativity floating around — I think that is really important."
And as for her prolific use of the word "conversation" since she was elected leader — it's not just talk, she said. And it's not "some superficial political branding exercise."
The conversations she's had since she becoming premier have allowed extracurricular activities to return to many public schools, new deals reached with racetracks to save jobs, and the passage of a throne speech with the help of the New Democrats.
"So it's working," she told the crowd. "I believe that we can address many of the issues that we confront by talking frankly about them."
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