Skip to main content

From left, Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, New Brunswick Liberal Party Chief Brian Gallant, and Newfoundland/Labrador Liberal Party Chief Dwight Ball attend a panel discussion on day three of the federal Liberal party's biennial convention in Montreal, Saturday, February 22, 2014.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Three Liberal premiers, two Liberal provincial leaders and one target – Stephen Harper.

For more than half an hour Saturday, the gang of five Grits took shots at the Conservative Prime Minister for what they say is a lack of nation-building and a refusal to sit down together with the provinces to debate issues – which they warn is placing the federation in danger.

They all described a dysfunctional country as they blamed the Prime Minister for a unilateral approach to governing.

"I understand the politics is toxic, I understand that there is division," said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. "I understand that is their [the Harper government's] modus operandi and in fact, this current government is happier if we are at each other's throats. The divide and conquer is actually in their best interest but it's not in the best interest of the people of the country."

Ms. Wynne was on stage with Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, New Brunswick Liberal leader Brian Gallant and Newfoundland and Labrador's newly-minted Liberal leader Dwight Ball.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, the leader of the B.C. Liberals, was not in attendance. Her party is a coalition of Liberals and Conservatives.

Ms. Wynne said the Prime Minister's refusal to meet with all premiers creates a "patchwork of programs" across the country, noting her province is now developing its own pension plan after the federal government recently refused provincial requests to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.

She said that her government is speaking to other provinces about pensions – but characterized that as a "clumsy process" to governing.

"… If you had a federal government with the vision to really want to grab onto those national projects we could work together so easily," she said.

Later in a separate scrum, Ms. Wynne noted the federal government's handling of the Canada Jobs Grant program. It was announced in last year's budget but the provinces have opposed it. In this year's budget, the federal government announced it was going to go alone on it because there is no provincial buy-in. Since then there have been some negotiations.

"How much better would it have been if the Prime Minister and federal government had engaged with the provinces before the policy was imposed," Ms. Wynne said. "What has happened obviously is that the provinces have … hung together and now there is more flexibility that has been introduced into that program.

"But my vision of the country would be that the federal government would engage with provinces first, that the policy would be developed in a way that meets the needs of provinces," she said.

PEI's Robert Ghiz said health care, although a provincial responsibility, should be on the election platform in 2015. He criticized the Harper government's approach to the issue when it simply told the provinces what their funding was and that it was not negotiating.

"We had an opportunity to sit down as premiers and hoping with the PM to discuss how to move forward on health care," said Mr. Ghiz. "We have an aging population in Canada … and the PM unilaterally comes in and says 'here's your envelope,' no discussion, no nation-building whatsoever."

In addition to the issue of reforming CPP and health care, the leaders spoke about having a truly national infrastructure program and education reforms.

New Brunswick leader Mr. Gallant says that investment in education could transform his province but "it takes politicians who aren't in it just to win an election but to actually help Canadians from coast to coast to coast."

Liberal delegates were clearly thrilled with the leaders, punctuating the leaders' remarks with applause and standing ovations. The leaders believe that if federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau becomes Prime Minister that he will listen to them and help develop national programs.

Interact with The Globe