Play­ing to Wynne

Annex Post - - NEWS - By Jon Sufrin

New ini­tia­tives show Premier Kath­leen Wynne is ready to buck the con­ser­vatism trend with poli­cies that ap­peal or pan­der to the prov­ince’s so­cial ac­tivist base — es­pe­cially in big cities like T.O. — with poli­cies not un­like those of the NDP

Are you sur­prised at the back­lash to some of your poli­cies? Do you feel that there is a bleed over from ris­ing con­ser­vatism in the U.S.?

I wouldn’t say so. I think that we in On­tario are look­ing for gov­ern­ment to be fair, to un­der­stand peo­ple’s needs and to put in place sup­ports that peo­ple need. Th­ese aren’t par­ti­san is­sues. I be­lieve that most peo­ple in On­tario see the util­ity of those poli­cies and are look­ing for that kind of sup­port for their fam­i­lies.

But ap­proval rat­ings aren’t ex­actly sky-high.

Polls are what they are. I can’t con­trol what in­di­vid­u­als think of me per­son­ally or what they think of my gov­ern­ment. But we are lis­ten­ing to peo­ple, we are re­spond­ing to peo­ple’s needs, and we are putting in poli­cies that I hope will help them in their day-to-day lives. The pol­i­tics of polling and party ap­proval, those are things that get worked out at the bal­lot box, and we’ll see what hap­pens.

How did uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come go from utopian pipe dream to some­thing that we’re ac­tu­ally at­tempt­ing to do here in On­tario?

The no­tion of ba­sic in­come has been around for over 30 years. It seemed to me that this is an idea whose time had come, to see if there is a bet­ter way of sup­port­ing peo­ple who are hav­ing real chal­lenges. As we look at the chang­ing econ­omy, with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and new tech­nolo­gies and the dis­place­ment of peo­ple, we need to fig­ure out if there are things we should be do­ing as a so­ci­ety to sup­port peo­ple as they make tran­si­tions in this new econ­omy.

Is it eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble though?

That’s ex­actly why we’re run­ning the pi­lot. I want to see what the out­comes are go­ing to be. There was a pi­lot run years ago in Man­i­toba, and it looked like there were some promis­ing re­sults. But there wasn’t a proper fol­low-up, so we need to demon­strate that this new pro­gram can work.

What do you make of the con­cerns of small busi­ness own­ers who say a $15 min­i­mum wage will put them un­der?

I’m hear­ing dif­fer­ent mes­sages. There are thou­sands of busi­nesses in On­tario that al­ready pay their em­ploy­ees more than $15 an hour, so they will be much less af­fected. There are some busi­nesses that have con­cerns about the tran­si­tion, and so do I, par­tic­u­larly for very small busi­nesses. So we’re look­ing to bring out some sup­ports in the fall to help them through that.

Speak­ing of small busi­nesses, how do you see them fit­ting into the plan to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana?

We haven’t landed on ex­actly what the model will be in On­tario. There are still ques­tions that have not been an­swered by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ques­tions around road­side test­ing and other im­pli­ca­tions. What I will say now is that I want to see good, strong gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions. There will be a gov­ern­ment role to play in the dis­tri­bu­tion and reg­u­la­tion of cannabis, but what that model might look like, I can’t tell you right now. I have said in the past that the LCBO should be in­volved, and whether it’s the LCBO or the Al­co­hol and Gam­ing Com­mis­sion of On­tario, those ques­tions are up in the air.

Will On­tario have a plan in place by next year? That is com­ing up quickly.

We have said that we’re work­ing to­ward a July 1, 2018, im­ple­men­ta­tion. If we are not able to get an­swers to some of the ques­tions that we’ve asked the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, it will be more chal­leng­ing to meet that dead­line. But On­tario is on track to be ready by then.

Do you an­tic­i­pate that this will gen­er­ate in­come that can be used for in­fra­struc­ture and other ben­e­fits for the prov­ince?

That’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. We ac­tu­ally have not pro­jected any in­cre­men­tal in­come from the sale of cannabis. We need to rec­og­nize that this is about pub­lic safety and pro­tect­ing youth. Those are the big con­cerns that I have right now. I think what you’re go­ing to see is a need for in­vest­ment in en­force­ment and in sup­port for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties as they im­ple­ment changes.

We’ve also seen a con­certed ef­fort to cool down Toronto’s real es­tate mar­ket. Why was it im­por­tant to in­ter­vene?

It seemed like there was a real heat­ing of the mar­ket, and we wanted to ad­dress ar­eas of con­cern. For ex­am­ple, the non-res­i­dent spec­u­la­tion tax was about mak­ing sure that, as peo­ple buy places to live, that those units are ac­tu­ally used as places to live. Re­cent data shows that many peo­ple still want to buy in On­tario. The goal was to make buy­ing and rent­ing a home more af­ford­able, and it seems the plan is hav­ing that de­sired ef­fect.

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