Kathleen Wynne describes tone of Harper meeting as 'very positive'
Ontario premier optimistic about work with federal government on Ring of Fire, infrastructure issues
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says she did not get any firm commitments from Prime Minister Stephen Harper during their meeting Monday night, but they did have a "productive discussion" and for her "that's a tangible result."
Wynne said she and Harper agreed to follow up on their discussions and meet again "in a few months."
When a reporter raised the much-discussed "cold war" between Ontario and the federal government and the number of days since leaders last met in 2013, the Liberal premier joked, "But who was counting?"
Wynne opened her news conference with reporters at Queen's Park Tuesday by emphasizing how she places priority on her relationships with other levels of government, noting she has met five different premiers and several mayors in recent weeks because "we can accomplish more when we work together."
"This is not a personal issue. This is not about one person slighting another person or vice-versa," she said of her past frustration in trying to schedule a meeting with the prime minister.
"We may not agree on anything ... the point is that we're able to communicate, we're able to talk through differences and either agree to disagree or move forward," Wynne said.
"The meeting yesterday took us a step forward in terms of that relationship. That's a very tangible outcome."
Wynne said she was encouraged by their discussion on the strategic infrastructure needs of Ontario's Ring of Fire resource development project, which she said would create jobs for not only First Nations but all of Canada.
The two levels of government have "different expertise" when it comes to issues like safe drinking water for First Nations, the premier said.
"Often the expertise and the funding are not co-ordinated, so my hope is that we'll be able to make some progress there."
New discussion on climate change
The premier said the federal and provincial governments intend to build on their "effective and economically significant" collaboration in support of the auto sector.
Wynne also said she was pleased that Harper, in his year-end media interviews, said there was more to be done on climate change.
While the provinces have been working together on a Canadian energy strategy, it's critical for the federal government to collaborate leading up to the UN's conference in Paris later this year, Wynne said.
"He and I had never had that conversation previously and so I think that's some progress," she said.
Things weren't all rosy and cozy, however.
Harper remains unsupportive of Ontario's new provincial pension plan, the premier said, but that wasn't a surprise and her government will move ahead with it anyway.
Wynne said it's no secret that she would like to have a new MPP in place in the riding of Sudbury as soon as possible, but declined to say exactly when a byelection may be called in the vacant provincial seat.
Glenn Thibeault, a federal NDP MP, surprised many last month when he announced his candidacy as an Ontario Liberal in the riding where he was previously elected federally.
"Stay tuned," the premier said Tuesday.
Tories need Ontario votes
Harper was in Toronto on Monday night to attend the gold-medal game for the IIHF World Junior Championship. The two leaders met for just under an hour before the hockey game.
Wynne told reporters she watched Canada win at home, over Russia, after an "awesome, if intense" third period.
So why did Harper finally agree to meet?
Pollster Bruce Anderson thinks the prime minister needed to stop having to answer the question "why aren't you meeting with the premier of Ontario?"
Research done by his firm, Abacus Data, suggests the more Wynne talked about her need to meet, the harder it was for people to understand why the prime minister wouldn't meet with her to discuss serious issues in tough economic times.
"Ontario matters a great deal to the Conservatives' chances of re-election," he said. "They can't afford to have a situation where a lot of Ontario voters think that the prime minister is somehow disinterested in the agenda of the provincial government that they've just elected."
Although some Conservatives may want Harper keep his distance from Wynne's Liberal brand, Anderson said he chose the wiser course.
"The most important seats for him to hold or try to win are in Ontario, from the standpoint of the number of swing voters and the impact on the overall outcome [of the 2015 federal election.]"
The PM's unwillingness to meet was becoming unusual, given Ontario's economic importance, leaving people to speculate why.
"People think that there is some kind of personal pique involved, and that's not what they want to see in a prime minister," Anderson said.