So it has come to this. Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, can get an audience with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help burnish his foreign policy credentials for a potential run at the U.S. presidency in 2016. But Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Canada's most populous province, can't wrangle even a few minutes of the PM's time.
The two have not met for a full year, despite Ms. Wynne's requests, and the deepening chill in their relationship makes Mr. Harper seem increasingly petty and vindictive. It's a strange political strategy that boosts Ms. Wynne's fortunes and leaves the federal Conservatives vulnerable in a province that remains critical to their re-election chances. The 71 Tory MPs who represent Ontario ridings – nearly half the government caucus – would be justified in questioning what the very public stonewalling, combined with occasional bouts of Ontario-bashing, are meant to accomplish.
The tone of Mr. Harper's latest comments has only made matters worse. When asked yet again why he has rebuffed Ms. Wynne's requests for face time, the Prime Minister said that the Premier should be concentrating on dealing with the province's fiscal and other challenges. "I would encourage the Government of Ontario to focus on those things, not on confrontation."
Then he added another dig: "What we've done at the federal level, we're balancing our budget, we're cutting taxes and we're delivering more services." Buy my book, photocopy my policies and then maybe I can fit you into the schedule.
Mr. Harper may think he's scoring political points, but he's actually playing right into Ms. Wynne's hands. She won a majority government in part by running against his policies and capitalizing on his perceived indifference to Ontario's problems. Ms. Wynne will undoubtedly play the same cards when she campaigns aggressively for federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in next year's election, as she has promised to do.
The PM was reportedly angry that Ms. Wynne turned what she said was Mr. Harper's response to a private discussion about pension-plan reform last year to her political advantage, on her way to electoral triumph last spring. And there is no doubt that Ms. Wynne is being disingenuous when she insists that she has no political agenda in making public her efforts to get a meeting with the PM. She's a politician. She plays a game called politics. And right now, she's beating Mr. Harper at it.
The PM has repeatedly found the time for Quebec Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard – four meetings since the latter's election in April. No, Liberal Queen's Park and Conservative Ottawa are never going to see eye to eye on a wide range of issues. That shouldn't preclude Mr. Harper from every once in a while answering the phone.