Harper and Wynne meet for first time in more than a year

The detente between the prime minister and Ontario's premiere may start to thaw with Monday night's meeting in Toronto

TORONTO — Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met Monday night in Toronto, marking their first face-to-face talk in more than a year.

The Conservative prime minister had last met with the Liberal premier Dec. 5, 2013, and Wynne had embarked on a public campaign urging Harper to sit down with her.

The two met in downtown Toronto, where Harper was set to attend the gold-medal World Junior Championship hockey game between Canada and Russia.

Neither leader disclosed what was discussed, though pensions and infrastructure funding were expected to be on the agenda.

When Harper was in the Toronto area last month he did not meet with Wynne, but fit in a private meeting with newly elected Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Wynne told The Canadian Press in a year-end interview that she hoped Harper did not have a “particular vendetta” against Ontario because “this isn’t personal.”

In the Wynne-Harper detente, it takes two to tango
Stephen Harper, a son—and antagonist—of Ontario

The two politicians 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.

She has also used letters to Harper — released to the media — and social media to press the prime minister for a meeting. Last month Ontario’s opposition leaders criticized her approach, saying it clearly wasn’t working.

In Ottawa, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Harper does not understand that Canada operates as a federation.

“He’s never attended a single meeting of the Council of the Federation,” Mulcair said, referring to the premiers’ gathering. “I am happy that he’s…decided to bury the hatchet because he was taking a very vitriolic view of the premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.”

Wynne has set about to create a made-in-Ontario pension 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.

Harper has also 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, which it plans to eliminate by 2017-18, while Ottawa is banking on a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16.

Most recently, Wynne added her voice to a growing number of groups concerned for sex workers’ safety by saying she has “grave concern” about the Harper government’s new prostitution law.

The premier and her finance minister had also complained that the Harper government shortchanged the province in 2014-15 when it unilaterally tweaked the transfer calculations. Last month the federal government said Ontario would get an additional $1.25 billion for 2015-16 — though the announcement also came with a dig from the federal finance minister, who called on Ontario to balance its budgets.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.