All Kathleen Wynne wants from Stephen Harper this holiday season is peace, goodwill – and billions of infrastructure dollars.
In a letter to the Prime Minister Thursday, the Ontario Premier said the two should end their “confrontation” and meet for the first time in more than a year.
“That is too long a time between meetings of the Prime Minister and the Premier of Canada’s largest province, whose relationship should be one of collaboration, not confrontation,” she wrote.
Hours after the release of the letter, Mr. Harper sat down with Toronto Mayor John Tory for an hour-long meeting. Mr. Tory called the session “positive,” tweeting that the two talked about traffic, transit, jobs, the economy and housing.
Six other missives sent by Ms. Wynne’s cabinet ministers to their federal counterparts outline more than a dozen specific projects Ontario wants the federal government to help fund through the Building Canada infrastructure program.
The wish list includes six highway expansions, five projects to strengthen Ontario dams in the event of a natural disaster, reducing waste going into the Ottawa River, and improvements to the GO Transit regional rail network. More public transportation requests will be sent early in 2015 after the province finishes consulting with municipalities.
Federal officials responded Thursday that Ontario’s requests will be considered as part of the approval process for the fund.
But on background, federal Conservatives questioned why the Ontario Liberals made their correspondence public, effectively attempting to negotiate through the media. They view Ms. Wynne’s actions as being at odds with her repeated calls for a better relationship.
One aspect of Ontario’s request that could meet with resistance is that Ottawa’s $1-billion contribution to develop the Ring of Fire mining project and $660-million toward extending the Toronto subway in Scarborough come from the national portion of the fund, not Ontario’s provincial share. The Building Canada Fund is worth $14-billion over 10 years, with $10-billion divided among the provinces and $4-billion set aside for “projects of national significance.”
Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said both of these projects would help the national economy. The Ring of Fire is expected to generate $60-billion of economic activity; the government maintains gridlock in the country’s business capital is damaging the economy in lost productivity.
“Toronto is the economic engine of the country and the largest city,” he said in an interview. “The federal government should be involved more in public transit. Over the last number of decades, their lack of contribution to public transit infrastructure has helped make us fall behind.”
Mr. Duguid also asked that the federal government allocate a set amount of money every year to each province for infrastructure needs, rather than only handing it out project-by-project. And he requested that Ottawa help more on climate-change mitigation measures.
Relations have been frosty between Ms. Wynne and Mr. Harper since the Ontario election last spring. During the writ, she accused the Prime Minister of “smirking” when she asked him to expand the Canada Pension Plan in a private meeting several months earlier. Mr. Harper’s office said Ms. Wynne misrepresented their exchange. Since then, he has refused to sit down with her.
Liberal sources have subsequently admitted they stirred up that confrontation during the campaign to distract from a scandal over the Grits’ billion-dollar cancellation of gas-fired power plants. But Mr. Duguid denied the Liberals had released the letters Thursday to change the channel on a tough final week of the session for the Ontario government, which faced a damning auditor’s report and the revelation police have recently raided a government office as part of their probe into deleted e-mails in the gas-plant scandal.
“I’ve been around here a long time, and I’ve had weeks that were a lot more challenging than this one,” he said.
Despite the animosity, Ms. Wynne closed her missive with a hope that she and Mr. Harper will meet early in the new year. In the meantime, Ms. Wynne and her partner Jane Rounthwaite wished Mr. Harper and his wife Laureen their “very best wishes for the holiday season.”Report Typo/Error
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