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Little political payback for Wynne in Trudeau government's budget

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) greets Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne during the First Ministers' meeting in Ottawa, Canada November 23, 2015.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne enthusiastically campaigned for Justin Trudeau in last year's federal election, a political gamble not rewarded by the Prime Minister in his first budget, according to experts and political observers.

The federal budget mentions that the government is committed to reaching a deal with the provinces on enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan – an issue that Premier Wynne has aggressively championed, even bringing in her own provincial plan – but some critics and officials had wanted to see more on the issue in the document. On infrastructure stimulus, another of Ontario's signature projects, the money pledged by the federal government was not as significant as some expected.

The Trudeau government's budget allotted $11.9-billion over two to five years to infrastructure, focusing on transit, social and environmental infrastructure. It also announced a deficit of $29.4-billion.

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Asked whether the Premier's support for Mr. Trudeau paid off, Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa dodged the question: "The payback is what is in it for the future of Canada," he told reporters. "A strong Canada makes for a strong Ontario."

Ms. Wynne's relationship with former prime minister Stephen Harper was frosty. The two barely talked to each other, and when she announced the details of the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan last summer, Mr. Harper immediately denounced it as a job killer.

He refused to help the province administer the plan, even going as far as to say he was "delighted" that Ottawa's decision was making it harder for Ontario to proceed.

The two Liberal politicians appear close, with Mr. Trudeau reciprocating Ms. Wynne's support by campaigning on behalf of her candidate in a recent by-election in Whitby-Oshawa. Yet in the budget, he did not help her out as much as some expected.

Rather, Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter said the budget wasn't geared at favouring any province or region.

"I thought the plan went out of its way to do something for almost every region," he said. "The flip side of that is that I can't say it was particularly favourable for Ontario."

He believes that there was a "pretty strong case" for directing more of the stimulus at "specific, hard-hit regions and provinces. … "The commodity price shock has hit some economies very hard and left others almost unscathed," he said. "Accordingly, some regions are in much greater need of support now than others, assuming the main point of all of this new spending was to support growth."

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Albertans had asked for relief on employment insurance and the federal government responded by extending benefits to some of the areas hit hardest by the oil price slump.

National pollster Nik Nanos, of Nanos Research, sees the budget as a strategic document – and not one that includes a "crass political payback."

He said Mr. Trudeau was careful in his budget to give something to as many provinces as possible – he noted that Ontario will receive transit infrastructure money and Alberta got its employment insurance reforms.

"I see those not as political payback but basically a federal investment in what the Liberals hope to be a more cordial relationship between the federal government and the provinces," he said. "I think there is a higher-level political payoff because Canadians always feel better when the federal government and the provincial governments try to work together … and it's a clear contrast to the past. The reality is the federal-provincial dialogue is part of Justin Trudeau's personal brand as the Prime Minister of Canada."

For Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Vic Fedeli, the finance critic, there is no special nod to Ms. Wynne and her government in the Trudeau budget.

In fact, he says it's "quite shocking" that there was so little on the CPP. As well, on the infrastructure spending, he believes the roll-out and the amount were not what the province was hoping for.

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A senior provincial government official said Ontario will continue to "work to try to find consensus" on the need for an enhanced CPP. On infrastructure, the federal government's spending is less than that of Ontario – $160-billion over 12 years – but that the most important aspect is that the two plans are simpatico.

He said the federal government's budget "brings to life the federal Liberal plan that so completely aligns with the plan the Premier has been putting in place here in Ontario for growing the economy and creating jobs."

Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated that the federal budget made no mention of enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan; however, the budget stated the government is committed to reaching a deal with provinces on enhancement to CPP. This version has been corrected.

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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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