Kathleen Wynne, a front-runner in the race to become the next premier of Ontario, says she wants to forge a united front with her provincial colleagues to extract a fairer deal from Ottawa.
Outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty also spent much of his nine years in office pushing for a radical overhaul of the country’s national wealth-sharing programs. But he failed to find allies among the other provinces. Ms. Wynne is talking about building on Mr. McGuinty’s legacy by waging a pan-Canadian push for a fairer deal from the federal government.
“I think that people have seen [Premier McGuinty] as a champion of Ontario,” Ms. Wynne told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. “What I’d like to do is just expand that to Ontario championing fairness across the country.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Wynne will unveil her plans to reform the federal-provincial fiscal relationship, including guaranteeing that all provinces receive a fair level of support. This will be her third major policy announcement since she jumped into the Liberal leadership race earlier this month – she has released statements on the economy and on Northern Ontario. Ms. Wynne, 59, is competing against six other candidates to replace Mr. McGuinty, who is stepping down after 16 years as leader of the Liberal Party. A new leader will be chosen in January.
If the provinces were to become one big squeaky wheel, it would be much more difficult for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ignore any pleas for reform, she said. But Ms. Wynne is talking about spearheading a new era of co-operation at a time when the pre-eminence of Canada’s most populous province within Confederation is on the decline. The economic fortunes of Ontario, Canada’s one-time economic engine, are waning as much of the country’s wealth shifts west to resource-rich Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta Premier Alison Redford has her own ambitions to shape the national agenda, particularly when it comes to energy.
Ms. Wynne nevertheless thinks she can build a consensus among provincial leaders around mounting criticism that the federal government is not giving Ontario a fair shake and is to blame for a portion of its fiscal woes. Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the Mowat Centre, a think tank, says in a recent paper that the fact that Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta are the only net contributors to the federation is no longer sustainable.
Economist Don Drummond also makes a pointed case for federal action in his report on reforming Ontario’s public services. Mr. Drummond says Ontario contributed 39 per cent to federal spending in fiscal 2009-10, but benefitted from only 34 per cent of federal spending on social programs, a gap equivalent to just over 2 per cent of the province’s economy. Despite the recent global recession, Mr. Drummond says in his report, Ontario “continues its tradition of punching above its weight in the federation.”
With her latest policy, Ms. Wynne said she is laying the groundwork for next summer’s annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders, which will be hosted by the new premier of Ontario. If people have an opportunity to talk about equalization and other federal transfer programs in the run-up to the meeting, she said, there is a better chance premiers can reach a consensus.
“This is in no way meant to be a wedge driven between provinces,” Ms. Wynne said at her campaign headquarters in Toronto. “This is my statement of wanting to advocate for fairness. I think that’s a Canadian value shared across the country.”