Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has released an exchange of letters that lays bare the tensions between the Conservative government and Canada's largest province on issues like infrastructure, federal transfers and public pensions.
The Premier released copies of three letters, including one she sent to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday asking for a face-to-face meeting before the end of the year. The most recent formal meeting between the two was in Ottawa nearly a year ago.
In one of the letters, Mr. Harper recommended that Ms. Wynne deal with federal cabinet ministers.
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Ms. Wynne's decision to go public with the spat is the latest salvo in a long-running war of words between the country's two most powerful heads of government. It comes on the day the provincial auditor reported that the Liberals quietly spent $468-million to buy labour peace with the teachers' unions and after a fall economic update revealed government revenue is down more than half a billion dollars.
But Liberals deny Ms. Wynne is taking aim at Mr. Harper to pull attention away from problems at home.
The Premier's letter this week says she wants to discuss infrastructure, the auto sector, internal trade, transfers, Employment Insurance, retirement incomes and violence against aboriginal women and girls.
Ms. Wynne sent a similar request on Sept. 16. Her office released a response from the Prime Minister dated Nov. 17 that makes no mention of the request to meet.
"Thank you for your letter of September 16, 2014, following up on previous correspondence," the Prime Minister's letter begins. "I am pleased to see you focus on the priorities of economic growth and job creation in Canada and Ontario. I encourage you to work with the responsible federal ministers to make further progress in these priority areas over the coming year."
Mr. Harper's approach to federal-provincial relations has differed from those of many of his predecessors. He has not attended a first ministers meeting since winning a majority government in 2011, and prefers to deal with premiers one-on-one. In 2011, he did not negotiate health care transfers with the premiers but instead informed them transfers they would rise with inflation but no more.
Ms. Wynne made her fight with the federal government the hallmark of the Liberal election campaign – and has repeatedly demanded Ottawa play a bigger role in – and pony up more money for – such things as infrastructure. Mr. Harper's Conservatives have insisted the provinces must take the lead on those files.
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With less than a year before a federal election, Ms. Wynne has been campaigning for the federal Liberals, appearing at a campaign rally in Whitby-Oshawa last week. A Liberal insider said Ms. Wynne received the Prime Minister's letter late Tuesday, was offended by the snub and wanted to respond immediately.
The Prime Minister's spokesperson, Jason MacDonald, provided a statement to The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that remains non-committal on the possibility of a meeting.
"The Prime Minister doesn't look for conflict with provincial leaders, he wants productive relationships that benefit Canadians," Mr. MacDonald wrote. "We know Ontario is facing serious economic challenges and will have to make serious decisions and we'd rather encourage the provincial government as they address the issues facing them, not seek confrontation."
The Globe reported on Wednesday that Ottawa and the province are at odds over infrastructure spending. The federal government wants to start announcing projects with its 10-year, $14-billion Building Canada Fund for infrastructure that was announced in the 2013 budget. Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver has been criticizing the province for failing to submit a list of projects for funding. Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford has also said Ontario should include infrastructure projects related to the Ring of Fire mining proposal under the Building Canada Fund.
Ontario wants Ottawa to match its $1-billion pledge for Ring of Fire infrastructure independently of the Building Canada Fund. Ontario also claims that it is being short-changed through federal transfers to the provinces. Meanwhile, Ottawa and Ontario are also at odds over whether to expand the Canada Pension Plan. Ottawa has rejected the idea and the province says it will launch an Ontario pension plan in 2017.