From Queen’s Park to Queen’s University

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne discusses enrolment, student issues and more

Kathleen Wynne spoke with students during her tour of Queen’s on Monday.
Kathleen Wynne spoke with students during her tour of Queen’s on Monday.
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A university campus isn’t the first place that comes to mind when planning a meeting with the Premier of Ontario.

Monday marked the conclusion of Kathleen Wynne’s 10-day tour of 11 post-secondary institutions in the province. Her last stop? Queen’s — University, not Park.

Wynne is the first female and openly gay Premier and has served in the post since early 2013. She was re-elected as the 25th Premier of Ontario in June.

Her post-secondary tour — which also included visits to La Cité Collégiale, McMaster University, the University of Waterloo, George Brown College, U of T Mississauga, Sault College and Collège Boréal — began on Jan. 9.

Following an interactive classroom presentation for the Young Liberals at Queen’s, the Journal sat down with Kathleen Wynne, ArtSci ’77, to discuss the University and student issues.

How does it feel to be back at Queen’s?

It’s lovely, it’s lovely, actually. It was fun getting a tour of Chown [Hall]. It looks exactly the same. I was a proctor, which they call a don now. And I was there in 1973 and it looks exactly the same.

What’s one thing you learned or gained at Queen’s that continues to inform your work as Premier today?

Probably the most significant academic thing that happened to me here was, I was introduced to linguistics, and linguistics really informed the way I see human interaction and it led to my Master’s studies, which was looking at a dialect of English spoken by First Nations kids in Northern Ontario. It really changed the way I think about the way our society works.

What’s one thing you wished you would have known as a student, or wish you had been told?

I think if I have any regrets — I try not to live with regrets — but I actually wish I had gotten more involved in student politics at Queen’s. I really wasn’t involved. I was involved in high school politics, but I wasn’t involved in student politics. So, I guess I wish I had known what the entry to that was a little bit better. But, I think, I take responsibility for it, too. If I had wanted to find out, I could have.

What have you observed throughout these 10 days and how, if in any way, has that changed your perspective on post-secondary institutions, and on future decision-making?

I have felt very much in this tour that we have fantastically capable students in this province. It’s reinforced my belief that we have all the capability in the world in our schools. I think we need to be very careful that we have the right supports for young people. They’re under a lot of pressure. Whether that’s mental health or whether that’s career planning support, you know, connecting young people with the job market. I think there’s more of that that we need to do. If anything, that’s something that has shone through.

Do you worry that increasing enrolment across Ontario will compromise the student experience or quality of education?

We’ve been trying to increase accessibility of post-secondary for young people across the province, so I’m happy that there’s a demand for post-secondary. We have to make sure that we have the supports in place for faculty and for students, so it is a high quality experience, because we don’t want to sacrifice quality on the altar of accessibility in terms of numbers. That balance is very important to me. We’re going to have to continue to work with institutions to make sure we get the funding formulas right and make sure that students have a high-quality experience.

We’ve seen steps taken by your office in terms of sexual assault policies, and recently with the roundtable with the Canadian Federation of Students. What are the next steps in that regard?

I’m going to be bringing out a plan on International Women’s Day, so March 8. And part of that will be how are we going to make sure that there are the right policies in place on college and university campuses? Queen’s has done a lot of work in that regard, but we need to make sure that it’s uniform across the province.

One of the things I heard in the roundtable was very much that students want to be involved in the formation of those policies. That was a very important takeaway for me. It made perfect sense to me.

What other issues came up during your tour of the universities?

Tuition always comes up, tuition is part of it. We talked about job availability. I think there’s a lot of anxiety among many people about what their job opportunities are. Those were the things that were of the most concern.

Any messages to Queen’s students?

Just enjoy the experience. Somebody said the other day that it’s the best time of your life. It’s a hard time of life, as well, because you’re forming your ideas about what you want to do once you’re out of the academic environment. Some students are working and going to school at the same time, so that’s stressful. But to the extent that you can really explore and ask the questions that you are thinking, don’t hold yourself back. Try to find the confidence to take advantage of all of the expertise that’s around you. That’s what I would say.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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