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Ontario Liberals pick province's first woman premier

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Claire Sibonney and Janet Guttsman

TORONTO, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Ontario's Liberals on Saturday chose a former Cabinet minister to become the province's first female premier and first openly gay leader of a Canadian province.

In her acceptance speech as the new provincial Liberal Party leader, Kathleen 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 all 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 said in October he was stepping down as party leader and premier amid controversy over costly cancellations of two natural gas power plants and battles with teachers over provincial plans to freeze wages.

The center-left Liberals have been in power for nine years in Ontario, Canada's most populous province and 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.

The left-leaning New Democrats are the natural ally for Wynne, who has a reputation for seeking compromise and is viewed as being to the left of other Ontario Liberals.

In her address to the party faithful, she invited leaders from both opposition parties to work with her to advance the interests of Ontario communities.

"But make no mistake. If that stops working, I will fight them for every seat, for every poll, for every vote in the next election," she said.

Wynne will have her work cut out to hold on to power. The next election is due in October 2015, but the Liberals lag their rivals in opinion polls.

The Liberals are facing a C$12 billion ($12 billion) budget deficit. They have vowed to curb growth in spending, as modest economic growth hurts revenues, and say it will take five more years to balance the budget.

Ontario accounts for roughly 40 percent of Canadian gross domestic product and is among the largest sub-national borrowers in the world, issuing bonds worth nearly C$35 billion in 2012.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130126/ontario-liberals-pick-provinces-first-woman-premier