Paul Wells in conversation with Kathleen Wynne

Kathleen Wynne: Time to kick Harper out

The Ontario premier on her feud with the PM over pensions and her campaign for Justin Trudeau


On Tuesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper used a campaign news conference to answer a question nobody had asked about the Ontario government’s enhanced-pension scheme. On Thursday in her Toronto office, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne fired back. “We need a change in government at the federal level,” she told Maclean’s political editor Paul Wells. “I’ll be supporting Justin,” she said, referring to federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. Her aides say joint campaign appearances are planned. This kind of direct participation by an Ontario premier in a federal campaign has no recent precedent, not even in the days when Mike Harris and Jean Chrétien viewed each other with disdain. Even as she insisted that “this isn’t a political fight,” Wynne laid out her plan to beat Harper in Ontario.

Q: How did you get into this fight with the Prime Minister?

A: I guess by saying that we were going to introduce an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, when he decided that we weren’t, as a country, going to see an enhanced Canada Pension Plan, even though finance ministers across the country said that that was necessary. So this isn’t a political fight, from my perspective. This is a very fundamental difference in opinion about what’s needed in the country for people’s retirement security.

Q: In a news conference the other day, the Prime Minister called an enhanced Ontario pension a huge tax hike. Why would it not be accurate to call it a huge tax hike?

A: A tax is money that goes into a government’s treasury to deliver services. This is an investment in people’s future. This is a savings plan to help people in their retirement. And what’s motivating this is that we know that people in their 20s and 30s and 40s are not able to save enough, so they’re worried about their security and their retirement.

(Photograph by Cole Garside)

(Photograph by Cole Garside)

Q: Call it a tax, call it an investment; it will reduce the take-home pay in 2017-18 of people who have no choice whether or not to participate in the plan.

A: As I’ve said a number of times, the Canada Pension Plan is pretty much universally regarded as a good thing. People rely on it. They know it’s there, and there’s really no public debate about whether the Canada Pension Plan should exist. This is analogous to that kind of plan. You know, I ran on this. I ran, and we put it in our budget in 2014. We ran on it in our platform and were returned with a mandate in June of 2014.

Q: And yet you’re not saying, “The Prime Minister and I will have to agree to disagree.” You’re saying, “I would like a different Prime Minister.”

A: We’ve had this disagreement for some time, and I believe that we need a change in government at the federal level. Yes, I have said that, and I believe that, because the example of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan is only one example. There are other areas where this Prime Minister has decided he is not going to work with the premiers, doesn’t meet with us, doesn’t talk to us, doesn’t engage us as a group.

Q: What are the other items on that list?

A: Infrastructure investment. Climate change. He’s raised the issue of the Senate. Well, that needs to be a national discussion.  In the [Maclean’s Leaders Debate], he was asked point-blank if he would meet with the premiers to talk about the Senate, and he said no. Those are three examples. [Saskatchewan Premier] Brad Wall has raised the question of equalization. That’s a conversation that needs to happen with all of the premiers and the Prime Minister at the table.

Q: What are you going to do about it? Will you actively campaign? Will you be showing up with Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail?

A: Well, as Prime Minister Harper supported Tim Hudak in the last provincial election, and his MPs supported the Conservative candidates, we’ll be working in ridings. And, as Justin Trudeau showed up at rallies and came out with me during our campaign, I will do the same for him.  My first job is as premier of Ontario, so I’m going to be doing that job. But yeah, to the extent that I’m engaged in political activity, I’ll be supporting Justin.

Q: Your officials wrote to federal officials in February, seeking co-operation [with the Ontario pension plan]. They got a firm “no” from Finance Minister Joe Oliver in July. First, why were they seeking federal co-operation? What do the feds need to do?

A: The Canada Revenue Agency has the capacity, because of their tax-collecting mandate, to facilitate the contributions, so we were hoping we would be able to work with them by paying them a service fee. We were hoping we could get some help with the administration of the plan.  We always knew there was a possibility that we wouldn’t. Unfortunately, the federal government has decided not to help us.

Q: What was it like getting that letter from Joe Oliver? It was released to my colleagues at about the same time it arrived in your office, and it was blunt.

A: It was pretty infuriating, actually, because we believe that if the federal government and the Canada Revenue Agency can work efficiently with Saskatchewan and with Quebec to provide the same kind of service under an agreement, why not with Ontario?

Q: Can this relationship between a Liberal government at Queen’s Park and a Conservative government on Parliament Hill be repaired?

A: The relationship has been difficult for some time. That doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where we have worked together—the auto sector, for example. We have officials who work together all the time, and there have been joint announcements. There has been some co-operation, for example, around working with First Nations and water. I would expect that those things would carry on. It will never be a warm relationship; that’s a given. But my job as the premier of Ontario is to make sure we find ways to co-operate where we can. We have continually tried to reach out and make the relationship work, but we haven’t received a warm reception.

Q: You’re not shy about participating in the dispute with the Prime Minister, and neither is he shy about it. How can you both be so sure, not only that you’re right, but that your side is a political winner?

A: What I’m sure about is that the people of Ontario need an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan or they need an enhanced CPP. I’m sure this country works better when the Prime Minister works with the premiers.  And I’m sure that it is my job as the premier of Ontario to stand up and say what I know to be in the best interests of the people of the province.  So that’s what I know. Beyond that, history will do the analysis.

Q: You’re backing the third-place horse in this federal race.  Does that make you nervous?

A: It’s a long campaign. I don’t think anybody knows where this campaign is going, and I believe in what Justin stands for, and I’m going to support him in any way I can. I see a problem. I see a solution to the problem. I don’t think Stephen Harper has put forward a solution to the problem. The solution that Stephen Harper puts forward to an insecure retirement for a vast majority of the people in this country who are in their 20s and 30s and 40s is to have voluntary vehicles for saving, voluntary vehicles that people are not using. There’s billions of dollars of room in RRSPs. Young people are not able to save, and yet that’s the solution he puts forward. I’m looking for a solution, and the solution that has been proven to work is a plan like the Canada Pension Plan. It has worked, so we’re basing our ORPP on that kind of design.

Q: By the same token, and at the risk of repeating myself, if young people are unable to save, are they able to part company with a thousand dollars a year, $1,600 a year, for the duration of their working lives?

A: You know, it’s young people who are saying to me, “Thank you for doing this,” because they understand that, in the four, five, six or seven different jobs they’re going to have over the period of their working lives, they’re pretty sure most of those jobs are not going to have a workplace pension attached to them. The nature of work has changed so much in a generation, or a generation and a half, that we need to think of different solutions. That’s why this is a practical avenue for us to take.


Kathleen Wynne: Time to kick Harper out

  1. ‘because they understand that, in the four, five, six or seven different jobs they’re going to have over the period of their working lives, they’re pretty sure most of those jobs are not going to have a workplace pension attached to them.’

    And that’s why Ontario likes her. She understands the situation and does something about it.

    And if the PM isn’t willing to do his job…..well, somebody has to.

    You go, girl!

    • Says the person who thinks equalization is something Ontario pays into out of its own revenue.

      • Yawn.

      • Nice juicy fat softball leadins for Wynne to state her possitions. Paul Wells continues to show his obvious love for the LPC and his desire for little justin to carry on with daddy’s family career choice.

        • Most people see Wells as a Con. Bitter much?

  2. 1) So it is okay to call Justin Trudeau “Justin” again. What was all that hullaballoo about last week?

    2) “Justin” just isn’t ready. He need his “grandma” out there campaigning for him. “Grandma” has no confidence is “Justin”‘s ability to campaign.

    3) There is no benefit to the working poor for an enhanced CPP or an Ontario Pension Plan, because the GIS will just be clawed back. So from the perspective of the working poor, there is zero NET benefit to Wynne’s plans. It is just a horribly regressive tax for poor people to pay for enhanced pensions for the middle class and upper middle class.

    • Wynne’s pension plan: poor people pay for enhanced pensions for the middle class and wealthy. Reverse Robin Hood. The woman is a fool.

      from Kevin Milligan in the competition GM

      The second problem with the ORPP is a mismatch with the pension problems we actually face. The ORPP doesn’t focus just on middle earners, but also covers low earners. Our current retirement system pays Old Age Security and the income-tested Guaranteed Income Supplement to those who had low earnings during their work lives. The combined pension income for these low-earning Canadians is often more than they were making when working.

      An expanded ORPP effectively transfers money away from these low earners when they are struggling in their working years to a time in retirement when they are already doing a bit better. Moreover, these low earners will pay full ORPP premiums on their earnings, but lose up to half the value of their ORPP benefits because of income testing of their other benefits. Expanded earnings-related pension coverage for low earners is a very bad deal under our current system.

  3. I cannot understand why after she has dug a hole so deep and wanting to dig deeper that some one has not organized impeachment. We just cannot continue to keep digging the hole any deeper. Yes we voted for her but we did not anticipated such a spend thrift to continue to bankrupt and become another Greece.

    • We have an excellent credit rating and are not remotely like Greece.

      Canada doesn’t have impeachment…that’s American.

      • All those CDO’s and collateralized mortgage bonds and debt that turned out to be worthless and cause the global economic crisis also had the highest credit ratings.

        Credit can go from good to bad awfully quickly.

        • Yerr right. Head for the bunker. We’re actually Somalia and never noticed!

          • Emily,

            Rather than just enriching all of us with your “witticisms” about Greece and Somalia why don’t you respond to the comment above (which was reproduced from an Economics Professor) that indicates the Ontario Pension Plan would be bad for low income earners and would create another unnecessary costly bureaucracy? If it is a good idea, let’s run with it, but don’t support something just because your opponent doesn’t like it. I am concerned the revenue will be transferred to general revenues. I am not sure how that will be prevented with certainty. Perhaps once a new Government is chosen the premiers can work with them to solve the issue for all Canadians rather than going it alone?

          • Jeff.

            No one here is discussing an actual pension plan….they are just Harp campaigners repeating nonsense.

      • California, with 38 million people, had a debt crisis on less than half the debt Ontario currently carries, with 15 million people. But you’re right, that could never happen here. We’re special. Never mind that Canada was mere minutes away from a failed bond auction in 1994 (that’s why interest rates suddenly spiked that year despite a weak economy). Things like that just never happen here. Keep your head in the sand. It’s your favourite position.

        • And yours is apparently felching a goat.

          The topic here is Harp and Ontariol, not your fear-mongering

  4. There is no question that an add-on to the Canada Pension Plan is long overdue. However, what Premier Wynne is not saying is that by doing an Ontario version, it creates a pool of capital for investing in Ontario bonds when nobody else will buy them. I’m sure the she examined the history of Quebec’s plan very carefully, and given the state of Ontario’s finances this contingency plan is very pertinent.

  5. No, it’s time for Wynn and Emily to go. They seem to be one of a kind economically.

    • Ont just had an election. People like Wynn.

    • Kathleen Wynn makes two points: 1) the Harper government’s refusal to meet with the provinces in a federal system is engineered dysfunction, and 2) there is need for a savings plan that encourages foresight among younger households and compensates for an engineered give-away to the well-off at the expense of struggling young people without access to company and public sector pensions that our generation had. The increase in the TFSA is not necessary for those who have resources to contribute the additional amounts…unless it is to accumulate additional tax free savings to give to their children at a later date. A preferred approach is to tax such income (from wealth) and provide services to younger families (dare I say, day care facilities that permit younger dual working- parent-households to survive. Canada’s historical advantage as a society over the US has been the affordability of its health and educational services.

      • Regarding #1. The Canadian Constitution has a (relatively) clear separation of powers between the federal government and the provincial governments, and each is sovereign in its own jurisdiction with respect to that separation. There is no particular reason or need for the PM and premiers to meet, They just have to do their job within their own constitutionally specified roles. One reason that sovereignty has gone tranquil is that Harper has been respecting the separation of powers. Those begging for meetings are typically begging for the federal government to interfere in provincial areas of jurisdiction.

        2) Poorer Ontarians/Canadians would be better off taking the payroll tax Wynne is going to levy, and put in a TFSA. Because of the GIS, increased pension payroll taxes on the poor are reverse Robin Hood. The poor get no benefit and they end up paying for enhanced pensions for the middle and upper classes. See MIlligan above.

        • 1) “Separation of powers” is an American (well, via Montesquieu) term describing the separation of the three branches of government, i.e. legislative, executive, and judicial. It has no direct relevance to Canadian constitutional law and has nothing to do with federalism per se. What’s more, the BNA Act does not prescribe clear jurisdictions in the way you describe. While Section 92 does list those “matters” exclusively assigned to provincial legislatures, Section 91 defines not only areas of exclusive federal authority, but grants Parliament the authority

          to make Laws for the Peace, Order, and good Government of Canada, in relation to all Matters not coming within the Classes of Subjects by this Act assigned exclusively to the Legislatures of the Provinces;

          This is the so-called “residuary power” of the federal Parliament. Of course, it’s perhaps even more relevant to note that Sections 94A and 95 define several concurrent powers, that is to say, ones shared between Parliament and the provincial legislatures. These include immigration, agriculture, and – wait for it – old age pensions. Other areas of concurrent jurisdiction include the environment and health (in a broader sense than “health care”).

          So, I would invite you to revisit your interpretation of the constitutional jurisdictions of the federal and provincial governments. Please further explain why in light of the shared jurisdictions mentioned above there is no need for the PM and premiers ever to meet.

          2) Whatever the merits of the proposed ORPP, TFSAs are nothing more than a sop to the wealthy, and increasing the contribution limit compounds this inequity further.

  6. OMG, Ontario what have you elected!
    Yes, an expanded CPP for “All Canadians” is good.
    Yes, the TFSA is good for All Canadians no matter what your level of affordability is. USE IT! A GIFT!
    Yes, Ontario you are in DEBT. Clean it up! My question to my relatives in Ontario is, what do you
    Ontarians spend your money on? It certainly over the previous years has not been on the cost of housing. Where/what are you squandering your money on?
    And just food for thought, a note/question to the younger generation, your sense of entitlement just
    keeps peculating to the top. What’s up with that? Greece 2.0. Get the drift, entitlement really!

    • Lemme see…..Alberta is landlocked, a primary resource economy, has no customers, giveaway oil pricing, an environmental disaster, deficits, debt…..and a socialist govt……and you worry about Ontario?

      Con ‘concern trolls’ slay me. LOL

      • Stop trying to switch the focus to another province, at the moment we are discussing Ontario.
        Again, Yes the TFSA is good for “All Canadians”! USE IT! A GIFT!
        Yes, the expanded CPP is good for “All Canadians”!

        Oh EMILYONE, you are making assumptions about me….have I hit a nerve
        Hey Alberta you could take some lessons from Norway, unfortunately even they are having to make adjustments in this environment.

        • Actually the topic is Harp and his relations with the provinces….and Wynn’s response.

          I have no idea what YOU are talking about.

  7. For a media that has such a detailed interest in Harper’s potential involvement in a bribery scandal, you have a remarkable lack of curiosity in Kathleen Wynne’s involvement in her own bribery scandal.

  8. We have a representative democracy. What Wynne is basically saying is, your choice as the governing party was wrong because it isn’t doing what WE want. The Liberals have failed to take ownership of the disastrous Ontario economy and persist in plowing forward with Green energy and pandering to the unions instead of delivering sound economic planning and then they turn around and want to take more money because people aren’t saving for retirement. Gee, I wonder why?

  9. Gee Kathleen, how about we break some of that down for you?
    Q2- Yes it is a tax hike. Because the money from the Ontario Pension Plan will be used to provide low interest loans to the province for infrastructure, and not invested in for-profit enterprises as the CPP is, then it is a mandatory bond purchase which more accurately described as a tax.
    Q3- The Senate. We in the West have been driving the discussion about the Senate for nigh on 30 years now, and you people have been steadfastly pushing that discussion aside. For you to say that Ontario wants an adult conversation about Senate reform is an utter falsehood. There is no need for the federal government to provide Ontario with infrastructure investment money. Three other provinces already put money into Ontario via equalization. There is no need for Ontario to demand even more money from the minority of provinces paying into equalization. You could easily fund your infrastructure needs by cutting back on costly and job-killing climate change initiatives- which have done and will do absolutely nothing to reduce supposed climate change- and use that money for infrastructure.
    Wynne is desperate for an Ontario-centric Liberal or NDP government that will be amenable to rescuing Ontario from the ravages of Liberal fiscal policy by imposing Ontario provincial fiscal policy on the rest of the country. Yeah, like that’ll work out well for the rest of us.

  10. Dear Premier Wynne:
    Here’ a suggestion that’s sure to resonate with you and your Cabinet: Rather than tax Ontario employers and employees to fund your grandiose ORPP, why not fund it by unilaterally deducting some more money from Ontario’s practicing Physicians’ professional fee schedule? It would not be a novelty for you. You’ve successfully traveled down that path before with barely a peep of opposition from the impotent Ontario Medical Association. And everyone appreciates it when you run roughshod over the “fat cat,” overpaid, multimillionaire doctors. As an added bonus, Ontario Liberal Party popularity ratings will surely skyrocket.

  11. I feel that no Premier should campaign on behalf of a political party (municipal or federal) Conflict of interest.