Harper, Wynne finally meet after a year

Toronto get-together confirms need for both governments to support manufacturing.

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.

A spokesman for Harper said in a release that they discussed a number of issues related to jobs and the economy, and agreed on the importance of ongoing investments in infrastructure.

The two leaders also discussed the need to remove barriers to internal trade, and the importance of continued support from both levels of government for the manufacturing and automotive sectors.

And the release says Wynne and Harper agreed that they would remain in touch on these and other issues important to Ontario and Canada.

Wynne said in a release the two talked about the quality of First Nations drinking water and the Ring of Fire mineral development project in northern Ontario.

She said the Ring of Fire project would create jobs, provide opportunities for First Nations communities and provide economic benefits well beyond Ontario.

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.

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.”

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.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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