Harper and Wynne have first meeting in more than a year in Toronto - InfoNews

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Harper and Wynne have first meeting in more than a year in Toronto

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, is seen over the roof of an SUV as leaves Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, January 5, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
January 05, 2015 - 7:16 PM

TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met Monday night in Toronto, with the premier calling their first face-to-face talk in more than a year the beginning of a collaborative partnership.

The two leaders discussed the quality of First Nations' drinking water, a commitment to removing trade barriers between provinces, and agreed to continue working to secure strategic anchor investments and research and development projects in the auto sector in Ontario, Wynne said in a statement.

They also agreed on the importance of ongoing investments in infrastructure, a spokesman for Harper confirmed.

Increased infrastructure spending from the federal government is one of many issues Wynne has highlighted as she pushed for months for a meeting with Harper.

The Conservative prime minister had last met with the Liberal premier Dec. 5, 2013.

When Harper was in the Toronto area last month he did not meet with Wynne, but fit in a private meeting with newly elected Toronto Mayor John Tory.

Following Wynne and Harper's meeting Monday — Harper was in town for the gold-medal World Junior Championship hockey game between Canada and Russia — the tone of Wynne's press release was more optimistic than her statements about their relationship in recent months.

"A collaborative partnership between Ontario and the federal government will help expand opportunity and security for the people of Ontario and all Canadians," she wrote. "I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership."

The two leaders "had a good discussion" about Ontario's request for federal support for Ring of Fire development, Wynne said.

They agreed to remain in touch on an "ongoing basis" on the issues they discussed, Wynne said.

Harper and Wynne did not appear to discuss pension plans — a major bone of contention that has led to the two trading public jabs.

Wynne has set about to create a made-in-Ontario pension plan, complaining that Harper's aversion toward pension reform is "offensive and inexplicable." Harper, meanwhile, has panned Wynne's pension plan proposal, saying people prefer tax breaks as a reward for saving for retirement, rather than having their taxes hiked to force them to save.

Harper has also recently said the Ontario government should focus less on "confrontation" and more on getting its fiscal house in order. Ontario has a $12.5-billion deficit, which it plans to eliminate by 2017-18, while Ottawa is banking on a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16.

Wynne often invoked Harper criticisms during the spring election that saw her win a majority government.

She has also used letters to Harper — released to the media — and social media to press the prime minister for a meeting. Last month Ontario's opposition leaders criticized her approach, saying it clearly wasn't working.

In Ottawa, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair said Harper does not understand that Canada operates as a federation.

"He's never attended a single meeting of the Council of the Federation," Mulcair said, referring to the premiers' gathering. "I am happy that he's...decided to bury the hatchet because he was taking a very vitriolic view of the premier of Ontario, Canada's most populous province."

The premier and her finance minister had also complained that the Harper government shortchanged the province in 2014-15 when it unilaterally tweaked the transfer calculations. Last month the federal government said Ontario would get an additional $1.25 billion for 2015-16 — though the announcement also came with a dig from the federal finance minister, who called on Ontario to balance its budgets.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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