Why Harper met Wynne

Why Harper met Wynne

Paul Wells on the nearly one million reasons that the Prime Minister decided to meet with Ontario’s premier

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attend a centenary event for Leaside, the Toronto suburb where the Prime Minister grew up, in Toronto on April 27, 2013. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attend a centenary event for Leaside, the Toronto suburb where the Prime Minister grew up, in Toronto on April 27, 2013. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The “readout” is a term of art, one I’ve actually only learned in the past couple of years, for a summary of a conversation between two political leaders. It’s usually perfunctory, often designed to obscure as much as it reveals. The readout supplied by the Ontario premier’s office after Kathleen Wynne’s meeting with Stephen Harper is athletically happy-happy. Deleting the details actually clarifies the tone. I’m not making this excerpt up. Everyone make friends!

“Today’s meeting with the Prime Minister is a positive step forward … The Prime Minister and I agreed… Today, the Prime Minister and I had a good discussion … we agreed that, going forward, our governments will work together … I am pleased that Prime Minister Harper and I agreed today to continue working together… agreed to deepen our collaboration … I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership. The Prime Minister and I agreed to continue …”‎‎

But what’s striking is that though the PMO sent out no readout that I’ve received, it did publish a photo of the blessed event. And it’s also a flattering pic of both of them. 

I wrote a few weeks ago about Wynne’s theatrical perplexity at the long delay Harper imposed on a meeting after her re-election, and again soon after about Harper’s long fascination with Ontario politics and frustration with several of its premiers, especially (but not only!) Liberals. But when I wrote, at the end of the first piece, that “a reasonable prime minister would sit down with the premier of Ontario,” I meant it. I meant that my advice to this prime minister, who is very good at doing what a reasonable person does, would be to meet her, however fussed he may be at her insistence on being political while on the job as a politician. And I expected that at some point he would meet her.

Twitter and the comment boards, of course, are full of full-time pro bono advocates for the Prime Minister (and legions of more or less equally tiresome Harper-haters). Team Harper was quick to explain that he would never meet with her because, well, she wouldn’t meet with Rob Ford, or she said he smirked, or that in some other way she “had it coming.” So we’re left, once again, with the spectacle of a prime minister who’s less predictable than his amen corner.

Well, perhaps not less predictable, just less bone-headed. More intent on winning. One scrap of data for you: in the 2011 federal election, there were 951,156 more Ontario voters who voted for the Harper Conservatives than there were Ontario voters who voted for the Hudak Conservatives in the 2014 Ontario election.

That’s not quite a million Ontario voters who didn’t vote for Hudak, but whom Harper needs to vote for him if he’s to hold his majority. That’s what political moderation looks like. Harper needs the votes of a hell of a lot of Ontarians who basically have no problem with Kathleen Wynne. Realizing that, and acting on it, is an election-year instinct. It’s the same instinct that made him campaign with old Bill Davis in 2006 after excoriating the former Red Tory premier in print. It’s the instinct that has his PMO send out photos of Harper with Jean Chrétien and Harper with Barack Obama every time the PM nears those men. His base can’t stand Chrétien, Obama or Wynne. He needs more than his base. On Monday, he came back from vacation and sucked it up.


Why Harper met Wynne

  1. One of Paul Wells’ previous articles linked to this one says the Harper govt played an accounting trick to short change Ontario by over 2 billion on transfers to help the Conservatives win the election although it didn’t work. Now that Harper needs Ontario voters for his re-election they let it be known this wont happen again but if Harper wins “Harper will get back to the work of his life-time” which apparently includes undermining governments of Ontario he doesn’t like by cheating them on transfer payments. I’d say Ontario voters would be have to be awfully dedicated to Harper’s ideological cause to vote for his government again.

  2. He met her because he needs the good people of Ontario to vote for him – this after shortchanging them. Simple.

    So what next?

    Well, with oil headed lower than $50 a barrel and the Canadian dollar headed lower than $0.85 and with Alberta on the verge of a severe financial crises because of all of this, Ontario now is on the cusp of being able to rebuild it’s manufacturing base (hello GM)and once again become an exporting giant – especially with the American economy becoming red hot.

    So….Harper will frame the narrative that the conservatives have put in place the conditions that have allowed Ontario to “Once again find jobs and prosperity under the masterful economic stewardship of the Conservative Government”

    He will start to run ads extolling the prosperity for all Ontarians.

    His spin doctors will work overtime to ensure theses seeds are sown in every publication, on every venue and during intermission of every hockey game. The Canada Action Plan ads will pale in comparison to the blitz that the Harper machine will spread across this land.

    Question is: will the good people of Ontario fall for it?

    • You know what manufacturing uses a lot of? Electricity.

      You know who has the highest electricity costs in North America? Ontario.

      Manufacturing is gone for good my friend.

      • John…please don’t spout stats that can be verified handily……do YOU know who has the highest electricity costs in North America? Industrial rates…Calgary 14.04, NYC 12.41, Boston 11.60, Ontario 10.89, Halifax 9.33 Manufacturing has left because of labour costs and pollute at will environments in other countries. Don’t try to BS us.

          • This article compares the prices between Ontario, 15 “big U.S. jurisdictions” and 2 Canadian provinces (who are probably the cheapest on top of it).

            How exactly do you conclude from this information that Ontario has the highest electricity cost in North America?

        • John…my source is the Hydro Comparison Chart from Quebec Hydro which compares residential, industrial and more than 3 million kwh/month rates on its web site….by the way they have much lower rates in every category.

  3. A Buckley’s moment. But Harper will need to swallow a lot more bitter medicine this year (assuming of course that voters are able to see his election-year bribes for what they are).

  4. There were a lot of other optics in this meeting that you may not have picked up on.

    He met her on the day that he shuffled Fantino and of the World Junior gold medal game. This says to me two things:

    1) He buried the meeting on a heavy news day
    2) It gave the appearance of meeting her only because he was on his way to the hockey game anyways.

    This doesn’t look like an olive branch to the people of Ontario to me. This looks like he wanted to get the meeting out of his way with as little inconvenience and fanfare as possible.

    • I’d modify #2 slightly to suggest that Harper had little choice but to meet with Wynne. To have not met with Wynne would have fed into ‘mean old Harper’ narrative.

      • Yeah, don’t disagree. But doing it this way, seemingly tacking it onto his agenda at the last minute when he was already on the way to the gold medal game anyways, on a busy news day that he helped make busy by firing Fantino earlier…this was not reaching out to Ontario voters at all. Harper’s only goal here was to put an end to the “Why won’t he meet with Wynne” nonsense news stories as painlessly and quietly as possible. If Harper wanted positive coverage from it he’d have scheduled it in a much more visible, meaningful way.

    • Canadians are SOOOO naive….Harper met with Wynne so that he could travel to the hockey game on the taxpayers dime.

      • Ha!

    • I don’t think you give Harper enough credit.

      He has to ensure he does not alienate those 1 million votes. And apparently he must do this in a way that does not appear that he’s backing down and caving to Wynne’s request for a meeting.

      Solution? Set up a meeting on the day you (finally) ditch Fantino, and when the whole country is watching hockey. That way you get to suck up to Ontario (knowing there will be widespread media coverage), while allowing certain people to believe you’re doing no such thing.

  5. “Harper needs the votes of a hell of a lot of Ontarians who basically have no problem with Kathleen Wynne.”

    I don’t think it’s because they don’t have a problem with Wynne, I’m sure they do; I bet it’s that they didn’t have confidence in Hudak or that he had what it took and so they held their noses while voting for Wynne. But they’ll have no problem voting for Harper.

    • Funny thing about Ontario politics. The Cons finished 3rd in both urban 416 by elections and are no more popular since then. John Tory is a conservative but won’t dare openly support
      harper in his heartland as he has to keep his next election in mind if Rob Ford reagents health and runs again. Tory needs support from the centre and the centre left to win.

      Lynne knows Harper is a liar and has already pledged her support for Trudeau and Harper may just be trying to soften that support. JT is way ahead of Harper with Wynne having campaigned for her in her election. Guess who owes who.

      • And Wynne definitely knows a liar right! She is a Liberal and they wrote the book on it.

        • “X are liars, let’s vote for Y!”

          “But Y are liars too…”

          “At least they didn’t write the book on it!”

    • Agree with Frankly up to that last sentence. I think at this point if Harper manages to squeak by in Ontario, it will because a large number of voters held their noses and decided “better the devil we know…” rather than because of any great affection or belief in the man.

      I really want Harper and his crooked cronies gone. But I have to give him credit for finding ways to split the vote in his favour; much as I dislike him, and as low as he has been in the polls until recently, I’m not ruling out the possibility of him eking out another minority (seriously doubt he can manage another majority).

      • I think the LPC would be happy with a CPC minority and an LPC opposition. Trudeau does not have to lead a government made up of a large number of inexperienced MPs, and Harper will likely have to resign.

  6. The photo tells it all.

    Harper is in election mode.

    Interesting that the political punditry appears to have missed Harper solidifying the middle class voters that gave him a majority.

    His appearances at the Canada-Russia World junior Gold medal game is significant to the millions of Canadians that share Harper’s interest/passion in hockey.

    While Trudeau may have locked up the boxing crowd it is not near as politically significant voting block as hockey.

    I know that I and a majority of Canadians would rather have a beer and talk hockey (and music) with Harper than whatever topic I could relate to with Trudeau or Mulcair.

    Jack Layton did so well because people could relate to his personality and health problems on a personal basis.

    Wynne knows that her next budget is going to hurt Trudeau’s election chances in Ontario and Harper will be PM long after Mr. Trudeau goes back to whatever he did before he became Liberal leader.

    • You obviously have not met JT and talked hockey with him. He may know more about the sport than Harper does because he knows its like a religion in his native province.
      Wynne has already openly backed Trudeau because he campaigned for her in her election. Harper knows this and wants to change the channel but won’t be able to.
      Too bad your “voice of reason” doesn’t get facts straight before posting lies.

    • Hilarious.

    • I hate to break it to you, but a lot of people who watched the game last night are not going to vote for Harper just because he was there.

      Besides, attending gold medal hockey games, in Toronto, is pretty elitist, don’t you think?