It took 396 days, several written pleas, and numerous news stories about a smirk-fuelled feud, but Premier Kathleen Wynne finally secured her long-awaited audience with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The country’s two most powerful political leaders met for 30 minutes Monday night at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel before Harper left for Air Canada Centre to attend the World Junior Hockey Championship gold-medal game between Canada and Russia. The premier went home to watch.
“They spoke of a number of important issues related to jobs and the economy. Specifically, they agreed on the importance of ongoing investments in infrastructure, including the federal government’s new Building Canada Fund,” Harper’s office said in a statement.
“They also discussed the need to remove barriers to internal trade, the importance of continued support from both levels of government for the manufacturing and automotive sectors, as well as the important role of resource development for the Ontario and Canadian economies,” the communiqué continued.
“The leaders agreed that they would remain in touch on these and other issues important to Ontarians and Canadians.”
Wynne echoed that cordial tone, saying the meeting was “a positive step forward" that touched on many economic and social issues she wanted to bring to his attention, including development of the massive “Ring of Fire” chromite deposit in northern Ontario, boosting the auto sector, and improving drinking water in First Nations communities.
“A collaborative partnership between Ontario and the federal government will help expand opportunity and security for the people of Ontario and all Canadians,” the premier said in a statement.
“I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership. The prime minister and I agreed to continue these important dialogues on an ongoing basis and I look forward to the progress that we will make on the issues that matter to the people of Ontario.”
The meeting, which signals a thaw in the Cold War between the two leaders, was quietly arranged last Friday after low-key negotiations between Ottawa and Queen’s Park.
With Harper headed into a federal election on or before Oct. 19 — and his Conservatives dependent on holding scores of Ontario seats to retain government — he consented to see Wynne.
Their tête-à-tête, 13 months to the day after their last meeting on Dec. 5, 2013 in Ottawa, came following her complaints the prime minister was shunning Canada’s most populous and important province.
Last month, the premier admitted to the Toronto Star that perhaps she could have handled the tiff better.
“I wish the kind of personal tension hadn’t entered into it because, really, I don’t have personal antipathy for Stephen Harper. That’s not what this about,” Wynne said in a year-end interview.
“I truly believe that it shouldn’t be about the personalities. It should be about the two offices that have such responsibility having a good working relationship.
“That part I find unfortunate because it’s not personal for me; I hope it’s not for him.”
In the heat of last spring’s provincial election campaign, Wynne repeatedly attacked Harper in a bid to link him to then-Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.
Notably, she confided to the Star that at their last 2013 meeting, the prime minister had “smirked” during a discussion on reforming the Canada Pension Plan and dismissively said Canadians should save for their own retirement.
Harper’s office strongly disputed her interpretation of the closed-door session.
“Ms. Wynne is misrepresenting the meeting; it did not transpire the way she says it did. Also, if you look at her public comments afterwards at the time she clearly felt it was productive and she said she felt optimistic,” the prime minister’s chief spokesman Jason MacDonald said last May 8.
To punish the Ontario premier, Harper repeatedly rejected all her appeals for a meeting — even after she won a majority on June 12.
Instead, he found time to sit down with politicians as disparate as newly elected Toronto Mayor John Tory, New Jersey Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie, and seemingly every other provincial premier as well as dozens of foreign leaders, including a brief face-to-face encounter with much-loathed Russian President Vladimir Putin.