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Wynne says Harper meeting was positive, but he made no funding commitments

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne makes an announcement during a press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
January 06, 2015 - 12:17 PM

TORONTO - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne received no specific commitments from Prime Minister Stephen Harper at their first face-to-face meeting in more than a year, but being able to meet in person was a step forward, she said.

The Conservative prime minister met with the Liberal premier in Toronto on Monday night, before Harper attended the gold-medal game at the world junior hockey championship.

While no promises were made at their meeting, sitting down with the prime minister and being able to entertain the possibility of more meetings is a "tangible result," Wynne said.

"Did we get commitments on particular investments? No," she said at a news conference Tuesday. "But the fact is that we have now got the ability to follow up in a few months."

The two leaders last met on Dec. 5, 2013, and Wynne embarked on a public campaign urging Harper to sit down with her. In the meantime the two had publicly taken jabs at each other over the provincial deficit and pension plans, with Wynne often criticizing the prime minister on the latter during her spring election campaign.

Wynne said she discussed with Harper the economy, the importance of ongoing investments in infrastructure, including in the Ring of Fire, the auto sector, provincial trade barriers and the quality of First Nations' drinking water.

"To reinforce that it's important that we work together, for me, that's a tangible result from the meeting," Wynne said. "I don't think anyone should dismiss the importance of building those lines of communication."

Notably not on the table were pensions, over which the two have publicly clashed, and Wynne said she is moving forward anyway with a made-in-Ontario pension plan.

"He made it clear that he still doesn't agree with our Ontario retirement pension," Wynne said. "I knew that and that's not a surprise. We've had that discussion ...The understanding is that he does not agree with the direction we are going and we are continuing on that path."

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.

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.

The need for the prime minister to meet with the premier of Ontario is not personal, nor is it about "one person slighting another person," Wynne said.

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives said Wynne was using the tension with Harper to distract the public's attention from a slew of Liberal scandals.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2015
The Canadian Press

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