BEIJING - Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring people together.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had not talked in more than six months, finally connected with one another after the Oct. 22 shooting on Parliament Hill that killed Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.
“He and I spoke after the attack in Ottawa,” Wynne told the Toronto Star on Saturday as she concluded a week-log trade mission to China.
“That was just me saying that my heart was with him,” the premier said.
After Cirillo was murdered while guarding the National War Memorial, his killer Michael Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Parliament Hill and was shot dead just steps from where Harper and his Conservative caucus were meeting.
Wynne said she reached out to the prime minister to let him know she was relieved he and his colleagues were safe.
The two most powerful political leaders in Canada had not spoken since March.
That was when Harper called Wynne and asked her not to publicly weigh in on the Quebec election out of concern any comments would undermine federalist Philippe Couillard’s chances against separatist incumbent Pauline Marois.
Couillard, who was with the Ontario premier in Beijing as part of a Council of the Federation delegation to China, later won the April election.
But in her own June vote, Wynne actively campaigned against Harper’s Conservatives in order to push the provincial Liberals’ Ontario pension plan.
During the writ, she revealed to the Star that the prime minister had “smirked” during a Dec. 5 private meeting in his office and said people should save for their own retirement after she urged him to enhance the Canada Pension Plan.
While the premier also hit the hustings with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, she indicated Saturday that she wants to work with Harper, who faces voters some time in the next 11 months.
“But we haven’t had a substantive meeting yet,” said Wynne.
“I said, ‘we have a lot of things to talk about and I hope we will get a meeting soon.’”
Harper himself is headed to China this week and Wynne is hopeful he can convince Beijing to establish a currency trading hub in Canada.
The yuan – or renminbi (RMB) – isn’t traded on international currency markets, which makes it more costly for Canadians to do business in China because they have to use U.S. dollars there.
That exchange can add up to 8 per cent in costs to business deals, which is why Wynne wants an RMB trading hub in Canada similar to those existing in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei.
There’s no North American outpost, but Toronto and Vancouver are competing with San Francisco.
“We’ve been working the feds on this for months … trying to impress upon them how important it is that it be Canada – and Toronto makes the most sense,” said Wynne.
“My hope is that that’s exactly the message that he will bring.”