TORONTO — Provincial governments come and go, but there’s been one constant at Queen’s Park for the past 28 years – Monte Kwinter.
On Jan. 26, the York Centre Liberal MPP officially became the province’s oldest-ever serving member of the legislature. He’ll be 82 on March 22.
First elected in 1985 at the already-seasoned age of 55 in the vote that ultimately saw David Peterson become premier, Kwinter won the North York riding of Wilson Heights, defeating incumbent Progressive Conservative David Rotenberg and New Democrat Howard Moscoe. He’s retained the seat ever since, most recently against Tory Michael Mostyn in the 2011 Ontario election.
Along the way, Kwinter served in three different ministerial portfolios under Peterson from 1985 to 1990, and between 2003 and 2007, he was premier Dalton McGuinty’s minister of community safety and correctional services.
And he’s far from done, he said.
Claiming that he retains all the vigour and energy he had when he was younger, Kwinter said he still feels a great sense of commitment and opportunity to “do good” for his constituents and the province, and he confirmed he’ll run again in the next election.
“I can make a difference. As long as I feel that way, I am motivated,” he said. “I get to the office every day by 8 a.m. and keep a full schedule. I’m not slowing down.”
Prior to running for elected office, Kwinter owned a real estate firm and was vice-president of the Ontario College of Art. He also earned a degree in industrial design.
And he’s proud of his Jewish heritage, having been raised in Ontario, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants.
Kwinter said he’s made no secret of his religion wherever he’s gone. Recounting one story of leading a mission of Ukrainian Ontarians to Kiev, he said he purposely told the mayor’s office that he’s Jewish. In return, the mayor offered to give him a personal tour of Babi Yar. On the tour, Kwinter said he mentioned how he couldn’t believe there was no memorial at the site to the victims of the infamous Nazi massacre there.
He found out later that his remarks had an impact on the mayor, who ordered a memorial built on the site shortly after Kwinter’s visit.
Kwinter also helped start an annual tradition at Queen’s Park during McGuinty’s tenure honouring Holocaust survivors living in Ontario. Since 2003, survivors have been brought to the legislature to receive certificates from the province and tell their stories. The ceremony is held in affiliation with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.
The octogenarian politician also has a long-held objection to the province’s funding of Catholic schools, but not other faith-based ones, and it’s in stark contrast with his own party’s position on the issue.
“I’m not a proponent of fully funded religious schools, but there is an inequity,” he said.
Kwinter voted against his own party on the issue in the past, siding with the Conservative opposition when McGuinty’s government moved to repeal the previous Tory regime’s tax credits for parents who send their children to non-Catholic faith-based schools.
Asked whether he might bring the subject up again with the new premier, Kathleen Wynne, Kwinter called it a “dead issue” that no one will touch, considering its divisiveness and toxic electoral effect on anyone raising it at Queen’s Park.
He said he’ll work with Wynne to lead her and relevant cabinet ministers and businesspeople on future missions to Israel, as he has in the past.
Kwinter helped organize McGuinty’s 2010 visit to the Holy Land, which resulted in numerous deals being signed between Ontario and Israel in the realms of brain research, science, green technology and renewable energy.
And he’s become the ultimate repository of “institutional memory” Queen’s Park and a frequent mentor to up-and-coming MPPs.
Regarding the recent Liberal leadership race and eventual victory by Wynne over her main challenger, Sandra Pupatello, Kwinter said he never endorsed either candidate, because both are equally capable and “it would have been like choosing between two of my kids.”
But speaking to The CJN last week as Wynne was finalizing her new cabinet, Kwinter said he’d be open to holding a ministerial post if asked.
“My energy hasn’t let up one bit,” he said about whether the demands of cabinet at his age would be too daunting. “I wouldn’t say ‘no.’”