Ontario’s 38th Government has a distinct York presence

The colours of Ontario’s government changed on Oct. 2 when voters replaced eight years of Tory blue for a more fashionable Liberal red. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals sewed up 72 of the 103 seats.

Today, McGuinty will offer Ontario a better sense of what his fashion statement will be when Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman reads the  speech from the throne. Sitting in the legislature listening to Bartleman, who this month received a York honorary doctorate, will be four York alumni who are part of the 72-seat Liberal caucus. Contacted by YFile, the two cabinet ministers among them recalled their York times as crucial in shaping their lives.

The four alumni are Wayne Arthurs (BA ’72, Vanier), MPP for Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge; Michael Bryant (LLB ’92, Osgoode), MPP for St. Pauls in mid-town Toronto; Mario Racco (BA ’92, Atkinson), MPP for Thornhill; and Gregory Sorbara (BA ’78, Glendon and LLB ’81, Osgoode), MPP for Vaughan-King-Aurora. (New legislative Speaker Alvin Curling also studied at York, but is not an alumnus.)

Sorbara and Bryant, both re-elected in their ridings, are key players in the new government. Sorbara will hold the pivotal position of minister of finance. Bryant will hold three senior portfolios – attorney general, minister responsible for Native affairs and minister responsible for democratic renewal.

Arthurs and Racco are newcomers. Formerly mayor of Pickering, Arthurs will serve as a parliamentary assistant to Liberal MPP Gerry Phillips, Chair of the Management Board of cabinet. Racco, a former Vaughan councillor, will sit as part of the legislature. Here are snapshots of the four:

Greg Sorbara

Sorbara (right) has a long history of public service and private-sector achievement that continues in the new session of the legislature with his prominent role as minister of finance. With a BA from Glendon and an LLB from Osgoode Hall Law School, Sorbara recalls his time at York as an experience that helped crystallize his career.

“When I look back at my time at York University, both at Glendon and Osgoode Hall Law School, I recall the forces that helped shape my life,” he told YFile. “At Glendon I immersed myself in Canadian politics and history – in two official languages. At Osgoode I ‘discovered’ law. Nothing could have prepared me more effectively for the work that followed both in government and in life.”

Between 1985 and 1995, Sorbara served as MPP for the ridings of York North and York Centre (comprising much of the present riding of Vaughan-King-Aurora). His 1985 victory was in a riding that had not elected a Liberal in 42 years. He was re-elected in the then newly created riding of York Centre in 1987 and 1990.

In the previous Liberal government Sorbara held a series of senior cabinet portfolios, including the double portfolios of minister of colleges & universities/minister of skills development and minister of labour/minister responsible for women’s issues. He later served as minister of consumer and commercial relations.

Sorbara returned to the private sector in 1995 and remained active in his community and in business. He is a partner of The Sorbara Group, an Ontario-based land development and property management company. He served as a director of the United Way of York Region from 1998-2001 and has been a member of the board of the York University Alumni Association.

In November 1999, Sorbara returned to the public arena when he was elected president of the Ontario Liberal Party, a position he still holds. He also serves as the party’s Chair. On June 28, 2001, he was elected in the riding of Vaughan-King-Aurora, receiving over 60 per cent of the vote.

Michael Bryant

Osgoode graduate Bryant (left) was elected to the legislature on June 3, 1999, as the member for St. Paul’s, in mid-town Toronto. As a cabinet minister in the new government, he will be responsible for three demanding portfolios. His York experience provides a good foundation for his new role, he told YFile.

“It’s no stretch to say that my experience at Osgoode Hall helps shape a lot of what I do every day as an MPP and as Ontario’s attorney general and minister responsible for Native affairs,” said Bryant. “The diversity of students and faculty and ideas is tremendous, and really unparalleled.”

During his tenure in opposition, Bryant was the critic for the attorney general and co-critic for energy. He also served on Ontario’s Standing Committee on Justice and Social Policy, and on the official opposition sub-committee on policy.

Bryant has authored new laws prohibiting dangerous weapons and improving access to justice. He also introduced bills and resolutions on rent control, affordable housing, victims’ rights, organized crime, and date-rape drugs. “The many voices of Osgoode really challenged me, my way of thinking, and the way I approach issues,” he said. “It was an education in the truest sense of the word.”

In addition to his LLB from Osgoode,  Bryant has a BA and MA from the University of British Columbia. He studied at Harvard University as a Fulbright Fellow and earned an LLM.

Bryant has also served as lecturer in law at King’s College, University of London (UK) and as adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and University of Toronto. He has published articles and books on public law and criminal law.

Wayne Arthurs

Wayne Arthurs was Pickering’s longest-serving mayor, in office since 1988, and a member of its council since 1982 when he left to run as a Liberal candidate in the October election. Although a newcomer to the provincial parliament, he will serve as the parliamentary assistant to an influential figure: Gerry Phillips, Chair of the Management Board of cabinet.

Arthurs has a BA Hons. from York and a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Toronto.

Mario Racco

When Racco takes his seat in the legislature as MPP for Thornhill, he will bring with him years of experience from service in local government as well as finance. Racco has a degree in business administration from York University. He worked for Thorne Riddell Chartered Accountants and Dunwoody Chartered Accountants.

Racco began his public service career as a Vaughan councillor. He helped establish and build numerous parks, recreation facilities, community centres and libraries for the community. Racco’s dedication to his community has been honoured with the naming of Racco Parkway.