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Trudeau promises Wynne help with Ontario’s pension plan

Canadian prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau meets with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Tuesday.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

In one of his first acts as prime minister, Justin Trudeau will do what the Harper Conservatives refused to do – help Premier Kathleen Wynne implement Ontario's new pension plan.

This is a major reversal from the stand taken by Stephen Harper and his government, which refused to change regulations to help set up or collect contributions for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), which starts in 2017.

The two Liberal leaders met at Queen's Park on Tuesday for about 30 minutes – the first face-to-face meeting Mr. Trudeau has had with a provincial premier since his party was elected to government on Oct. 19. This is also believed to be the first meeting between an incoming prime minister and premier at the legislative building. (Mr. Harper visited Queen's Park to pay his respects to the family of Lincoln Alexander in 2012, when the body of the first black MP and Ontario lieutenant-governor was lying in state.)

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These facts, alone, reflect the close relationship between Ms. Wynne and Mr. Trudeau. She had aggressively campaigned for him during the 78-day campaign; he had helped her during her 2014 election bid.

According to a statement issued after the meeting, the new Liberal government, once it takes office, will "direct the Canada Revenue Agency and the Departments of Finance and National Revenue to work with Ontario officials on the registration and administration of the [ORPP]."

The statement notes this is the same support that is given by the federal government to Quebec and Saskatchewan.

Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet are to be sworn in on Nov. 4.

The pension issue had become a flashpoint between Ottawa and Ontario. During the campaign, Mr. Harper bragged he was "delighted" that his decision not to help "is making it more difficult for the Ontario government to proceed."

He characterized the provincial plan as a "tax increase" that would be bad for middle-class families.

The Ontario government says, however, its plan will help 3.5 million Ontarians when they retire. It is to be rolled out over several years. Contributions from employers and employees will also be phased in.

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Ontario had issued a request for proposal for a third party to help administer the plan because of the outgoing Conservative government's position. It won't need that third-party partner, which means the pension plan will be less expensive, and more efficient for both government and business, according to a senior government official.

During the campaign Ms. Wynne said that her support, which was unprecedented among her fellow premiers, was about having a collaborative federal partner. Not only are the two leaders already co-operating, they personally like each other.

That was on full display as Mr. Trudeau arrived at Queen's Park on Tuesday afternoon. Ms. Wynne was up on her tiptoes as Mr. Trudeau wrapped both arms around her in a tight bear hug.

Mr. Trudeau was in Toronto for the funeral of former diplomat Ken Taylor.

With applause and shouts of "Trudeau, Trudeau, Trudeau," the incoming prime minister was greeted as if he were a rock star by most of the Wynne cabinet, caucus and staff that had gathered to welcome him.

It was a contrast to Ms. Wynne's last meeting with the Prime Minister. Last January, after asking for nearly a year, Ms. Wynne met with Mr. Harper. He squeezed her in for a quick discussion at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York just before he was about to attend the gold-medal world junior hockey game between Canada and Russia.

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At the time, she said it was "a positive step forward." Mr. Harper's team was not as effusive, issuing a statement saying, "The leaders agreed they would remain in touch."

Tuesday's meeting was much more expansive. In addition to the pension issue, the two touched on investment infrastructure, collaboration on climate change – most of the premiers are attending the COP21 meeting in Paris with Mr. Trudeau – and the new government's promise to call an inquiry on murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.

As Mr. Trudeau left the meeting, he told reporters: "Great conversation on a range of issues. Look forward to working together."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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