Ontario's openly gay premier hopes to be example for others

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario’s new premier, the first openly gay head of a Canadian province, said on Sunday it would be “wonderful” if her victory can help society be more accepting of young gay people.

Leadership candidate Kathleen Wynne speaks after winning the leadership bid to become the new Premier of Ontario at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Ontario’s Liberals chose Kathleen Wynne, 59, on Saturday to become the head of the minority government ruling Canada’s most-populous province, which is grappling with a huge deficit and tenuous growth.

Wynne told a post-victory news conference on Sunday that her priorities would be to heal wounds in the provincial legislature so the parties can work together to tackle spending and improve the education system.

“The rancor and the viciousness of the legislature can’t continue,” she said. “We absolutely have to continue to work out our disagreements.”

Responding to a question on what it meant to be the first openly gay premier in Ontario, Wynne said that while she was not an activist, she hoped she could be a role model for young gay people uncertain of their place in society.

“If I can help people to be less frightened, then that is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” she said.

In her acceptance speech at the weekend leadership convention, Wynne, 59, a former Ontario education minister, thanked her partner, Jane, for her support during a three-month campaign. Ontario was one of the first Canadian provinces to allow same-sex marriage.

Wynne’s victory means Canada’s four most powerful provinces will be led by women. British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec already have female premiers. Women are also at the helm in the Atlantic province of Newfoundland and Labrador and in the thinly populated Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Wynne replaces Dalton McGuinty, who stepped down in October as controversy mounted over costly cancellations of two natural gas power plants and battles with teachers over the government’s cost-cutting efforts that included freezing wages.

The center-left Liberals have been in power for nine years in Ontario, home to most of Canada’s banks and a large part of its manufacturing sector. But the party lost seats in the 2011 provincial election and needs support from at least one other party to stay in power.

Reporting by Russ Blinch; Editing by Will Dunham