TORONTO — Ontario’s premier hopes Prime Minister Stephen Harper doesn’t have a “vendetta” against the people of the province, saying the well-being of Canadians should dictate their working relationship, not his “feelings.”
Kathleen Wynne’s last meeting with Harper was more than a year ago, on Dec. 5, 2013, and she has since embarked on a public campaign urging him to put an end to their strained working relationship. When Harper was in the Toronto area last week he did not meet with Wynne, but fit in a private face-to-face with newly elected Toronto Mayor John Tory.
“I really believe that as leaders and as politicians with a lot of responsibility we have to be able to, all of us, rise above the personal,” Wynne said in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press.
“I don’t think this should be about a personal interaction. It should be about the offices of prime minister and premier of Ontario having a good working relationship because that’s in the best interest of the people of the province and quite frankly it’s in the best interest of the people of the country.”
The prime minister’s director of communications said Harper “does anticipate having a future meeting with the premier.”
Jason MacDonald did not say why more than a year has passed since Wynne and Harper’s last face-to-face meeting, but noted they spoke on the phone “as recently as this fall.”
The Liberal premier and the Conservative prime minister have publicly taken jabs at each other over pension plans, the provincial deficit and infrastructure spending. Wynne often invoked Harper criticisms on those topics during the spring election that saw her win a majority government.
So was it one dig in particular that soured their relationship?
“You’ll have to ask Prime Minister Harper,” Wynne said.
“I hope the prime minister of Canada doesn’t have a particular vendetta against the people of Ontario and against the province because, as I say, this isn’t personal. This isn’t about Stephen Harper’s feelings about the province or a particular politician. This is about the well-being of the country as it’s connected to the well-being of Ontario.”
Wynne pointed to Alberta’s economy and falling oil prices, saying Ontario’s economy can be a buffer against commodity price volatility.
“So it’s very important that Ontario do well and that should be a shared project of the premier and the prime minister of the country.”
The Liberal government’s plan to eliminate Ontario’s budget in 2017-18 is still on track, she said.
Harper has recently said the Ontario government should focus less on “confrontation” and more on getting its fiscal house in order. Ontario has a $12.5-billion deficit, while Ottawa is banking on a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16.
Another major sticking point in the politicians’ relationship has been pension plans.
Wynne has set about to create a made-in-Ontario plan, complaining that Harper’s aversion toward pension reform is “offensive and inexplicable.” Harper, meanwhile, has panned Wynne’s pension plan proposal, saying people prefer tax breaks as a reward for saving for retirement, rather than having their taxes hiked to force them to save.
Perhaps next year a detente will come, but Wynne hopes it’s before the next federal election, set for October.
“I’m not sitting around with nothing to do,” she said. “I’m very busy and I’m working with my colleague premiers. I’ve met with five premiers in the last few months and I am going to continue to work to advance the interests of the country and the province, but I hope at some point there will be a federal partner with whom to do that.”