Dianne Cunningham is a politician in Ontario, Canada. She was a Progressive Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1988 to 2003, and a cabinet minister in the governments of Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.
Cunningham worked as an elementary school teacher in private life, and entered politics by winning a seat on the London, Ontario school board in 1973. She retained that position for fifteen years, and also served as a Planning Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.
Cunningham was first elected to the Ontario legislature for the riding of London North in a 1988 by-election. The riding had previously been Liberal, and bordered on the seat belonging to Liberal Premier David Peterson; Cunningham's victory made her a rising star in the small Tory caucus. She ran for the leadership of the then third-place Conservatives in 1990, losing to Mike Harris in the party's first One Member One Vote election for leader. (see: Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership conventions). She was considered a Red Tory, but was hurt by comparisons to Brian Mulroney, Canada's unpopular Progressive Conservative Prime Minister. Her loss to Harris led to a major shift in the political orientation of the party.
Cunningham was re-elected in the 1990 provincial election, which was won by the New Democratic Party. During the next five years, the Tories developed a series of right-wing policy initiatives which became known as the "Common Sense Revolution". Cunningham was not a major contributor to this process. She did, however, serve as her party's Whip from 1990 to 1993.
She was easily re-elected in the 1995 provincial election, which the Tories won. Despite not being in Harris's inner circle, she was appointed to cabinet in the minor portfolios of Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Minister responsible for Women's Issues. She retained these positions for the entirety of the Harris government's first term in office.
In the provincial election of 1999, Cunningham narrowly defeated New Democratic Party MPP Marion Boyd in the redistributed riding of London North Centre (the Harris government had previously reduced the number of provincial ridings from 130 to 103, forcing many MPPs to run against one another). Following the election, she was promoted to Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and retained that portfolio for the next four years. She was also re-appointed as Minister responsible for Women's Issues on February 8, 2001. In 2002, she supported Ernie Eves to replace Mike Harris as party leader.
Cunningham was often criticized for the way her department managed the elimination of OAC levels from Ontario's high-school system. The decision reduced the standard high-school honour's degree program from five years to four, and resulted in a "double cohort" of new university students when the policy first came into effect. Several students were unable to attend the university of their choice, and poor departmental planning was frequently blamed.
Cunningham ran for re-election in the 2003 Ontario election but lost to Deb Matthews by over 6,000 votes in the landslide that brought the Ontario Liberal Party to power. (Ironically, Matthews is the sister-in-law of former Premier David Peterson.)
After the election, she was appointed Director of the Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management.