Editor’s note: Eric Cunningham was a frequent contributor of guest editorials to the Bay Observer. What follows is his final column.
It’s highly unlikely that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne received a Christmas/Season’s Greetings card from Prime Minister Stephen Harper this year. The leaders of the two largest governments in Canada are engaged in an historic federal/provincial spat. They have not met since December 5th, 2013.
Premier Wynne has suggested she will meet anytime…anywhere. No response.
We all realize that the Prime Minister is a busy guy. But to put all of this into perspective, Prime Minister Harper has met with everyone from heads of state, to hockey players to hardware sales folks. He has met with US President Barak Obama four or five times in the past year, notwithstanding the fact that Obama’s politics are closer to Wynne’s than his own. Obama, is the President of the USA, which is as Vice President, Joe Biden says, is a “big deal”.
Harper met with Vlad Putin so many times last year you would think that the Prime Minister might have picked up Russian. Harper met with the President of Senegal, not once but twice in 2014. More recently, Prime Minister Harper called newly elected Toronto Mayor John Tory for an impromptu meeting at Toronto Airport where they discussed transit, jobs, and housing. But no time for Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Mr. Tory, who got an audience with Premier Wynne the day he was sworn in as Mayor…faster than a double double at Tim’s.Prime Minister Harper had time for a pre-budget briefing from the Retail Council of Canada, but no time for Premier Wynne. And not long ago, the Governor of New Jersey got ample face time with Stephen Harper as a workup to Governor Christie’s run for the Republican nomination for President. Time for a US Governor but no time for a Canadian Premier elected to serve 14 million people.
To put all of this in perspective, the Wynne/Harper feud, if you could call it that, is at variance with most of Ontario’s history in terms of federal /provincial relations over the past fifty years.
Former Premier John Robarts managed to cooperate with a series of Prime Ministers…John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Robarts always thought of himself as a Canadian first before being Premier of Ontario. He always put our national interest first and that is a large part of his rich legacy. In my view, Robarts was respected in Ottawa for two reasons. One pertained to his great stature in life and his ability to bring people along. The other was the simple fact that he represented the largest province in Canada. On that basis alone, he was entitled to respect from Ottawa.
For the most part, over the years, most Ontario Premiers and Prime Ministers have endeavoured to get along. Bill Davis wisely followed the “federal/provincial cooperation” tradition. From a practical point of view, cooperation made a great deal of economic sense.
Former Prime Minister Trudeau had respect for Bill Davis and vice versa. At federal/provincial conferences (those annual meetings of premiers and the Prime Minister that used to take place prior to the election of Stephen Harper), Prime Minister Trudeau relied heavily on Ontario leadership to secure national agreements.
It is suggested by a number of political pundits that the Davis Government and that of Joe Clark were not close. This may have been one of the reasons that the Clark Government only lasted for nine months. The Brian Mulroney/ David Peterson era was one of mutual cooperation. A great deal of business got done with two people who respected each other. Inevitably, perhaps Peterson was too close and he paid the price over Meech Lake.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has an agenda. Every premier that goes to Ottawa has an agenda. Ontario’s “ask” is relatively simple and supports the national interest. We need our share of federal money to continue to repair our re-investment in roads, bridges, water and waste water infrastructure. It is our money. Like Mayor John Tory’s agenda, we need to have an adult conversation about jobs, housing and transit. We have too many people wanting to work that cannot find work even in Hamilton. We have too many qualified young people either not working, or sadly working in jobs that do not use their skills. Federal /provincial political squabbles are cold comfort to millions of Canadians in need.
Most reasonable people would conclude that whomever is at fault for the spat with Wynne and Harper, or whatever the reason, it is unseemly and not in the interest of Canada or Ontario.
Ontario Conservative MP’s, many of who I respect, may have to make the choice that John Robarts and Bill Davis did many years ago. Voters expect they will step up. If this political bifurcation continues, it may well be at the expense of twenty to thirty Tory MP’s. This will result in a minority government and the end of the Harper era.
No premier should have to beg for federal funds. Taxpayers in every part of Canada contribute to the federal treasury every day of the week. Simply put, it is our money. Happy New Year to Everyone.
By: Eric Cunningham