Stephen Harper advises Kathleen Wynne not to seek confrontation
"I really don't think it's helpful," Ontario premier says in response
The Prime Minister chastised the Ontario government on Thursday, saying it ought to focus less on "confrontation" and more on getting its fiscal house in order.
Stephen Harper made his comments at an event in Markham, Ont., where he was asked why it has been so long since he met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The two last met a year ago and Wynne has repeatedly voiced her frustrations over not being able to sit down with the prime minister.
"I meet regularly with premiers across the country and we anticipate we will have another meeting at some point in time,"
Harper said, before launching into a series of sharper comments.
"We all know that the government of Ontario has some pretty significant challenges. I would encourage the government of Ontario to focus on those things, not on confrontation."
Harper did not mention Wynne by name, but took time to compare his federal Conservatives with Ontario's governing Liberals.
"What we've done at the federal level is we're balancing our budget, we're cutting taxes and we're delivering more services," he said. "We think this is the direction the people of Ontario and the people of Canada want. I would encourage the government of Ontario to follow that direction."
Ottawa is banking on a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16, which would have been $6.4-billion if not largely for the Harper
government's multibillion-dollar cost-cutting proposals for families, including income splitting for those with children.
Meanwhile, Ontario's deficit stood at $12.5 billion this year and is projected to be $8.9 billion next year, falling to $5.3 billion in 2016-17. The majority Liberal government plans to eliminate it by 2017-18.
Wynne, who met recently with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and on Wednesday with Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, has said she doesn't know why she can't get a face-to-face meeting with the prime minister.
Speaking Thursday before Harper made his comments, Wynne said she didn't know the prime minister was going to be in the Greater Toronto Area for the day but added she will continue to publicly push for a meeting with him.
"I think it is important that the premier of the largest province in the country has an opportunity to, on a regular basis, talk with the prime minister about issues that have concern to the people of Ontario and quite frankly are of concern to the people of the country," she told reporters.
Wynne went on to allude to the seemingly strained relationship between herself and Harper.
"Those of us who get into politics have to be able, I believe, to focus on the issues that are important to our constituents, and not get caught up in personal animosities. I really don't think it's helpful," she said.
"And, for me, Stephen Harper is the prime minister of Canada, and I think that it is only rational that the prime minister of
Canada would want to talk with the premier of Ontario."
Among the matters Wynne said she'd like to discuss with Harper was the government's relationship with the auto sector, infrastructure investments and the economic recovery in Ontario.
"Those are all issues I think are of very high importance to the people of Ontario. But they are important to the nation as well because Ontario is a huge net contributor to confederation," she said.
"It is very important to the country that Ontario do well and it will do better if the federal government and provincial government can work together."