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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne continues to complain that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spurned her requests for a meeting. Mr. Harper did away with federal-provincial conferences years ago. Is the work getting done anyway?


John Capobianco:


Much has been said lately about the Prime Minister's non-attendance at federal-provincial (First Ministers') conferences, especially from Premier Wynne.

This was an issue, er, a fight, the Premier made during the most recent provincial election. It makes for good politics during an election campaign but in the real world, do Canadians really care? Do they care about the theatrics of First Ministers' conferences, where everyone postures for their respective media outlets and use the opportunity to score political points?

Or do Canadians want their leaders - at all levels - to keep their promises and work to make life better for all Canadians, whether if it is keeping them safe from outside and inside threats, ensuring their tax dollars are being spent wisely or ensuring their healthcare is being look after to the best of the government's abilities?

I would submit to you that this is what is important, and the Prime Minister is taking care of all that without having to attend First Ministers' conferences. He and his ministers work with their respective provincial counterparts on a regular basis and that is where the real work gets done - not under the glaring lights of the media at a conference where everyone is seeking to score political points.


Marit Stiles:

This topic makes me feel like I'm 16 all over again. Waiting for that boy I was crushing on to just CALL. My best friend advised me to just keep calling and calling him and leaving messages so he couldn't 'forget me'. Oops. Yeah that's called 'stalking', folks, and it's not a strategy I recommend.

Kathleen Wynne is getting lots of advice on this as well, I'm sure. She is deeply invested in the strategy of continuing to call Mr. Harper out for not working with Ontario, not putting Ontario first, not sharing the burden.

And let's not fool ourselves; this is a deeply political and partisan issue. It worked quite effectively for her in the provincial election when she wanted to draw attention to the 'real enemy' - that being Stephen Harper.

Today it's largely about shifting attention away from the cuts she and her government will be making, and over to a Prime Minister whose lack of popularity will also help her federal cousins.

But it's not only about Wynne, granted. We do have a deeper problem of a federal government refusing to engage in a meaningful way with its provincial counterparts. This is not new, but it is increasingly blatant... and it's a useful spin for a provincial government facing the prospect of breaking promises and selling off public assets.


Bernie Farber:

The thought of waiting for Stephen Harper to call me for a date is frankly quite scary...

Hence what the Premier is doing, confronting Harper's lack of will to work with his partners, is more than sound.

I believe that elected officials, from the PM to the premiers of Canada's provinces, have a responsibility to both the country and the provinces they serve. No other recent PM has so disdained provincial relations as PM Harper. In fact he seems to pick and choose which premier he will meet with based on political conviction as opposed to the need to work together co-operatively.

And in fact contrary to Marit's assertion that this is a new ploy by Ontario Liberals to divert pressure away from other issues, truth be told Premier Wynn has been trying for a meeting with Harper for almost a year.

He ignores the call from the Premier of 13.5 million people to meet and discuss urgent issues that impact all Canadians, from the Ring of Fire to the economy.

Seems to me he is in another world where only PM Harper counts to the exclusion of everyone else.


John Capobianco:

I am still laughing at Marit's example of when she was 16, waiting for a boy to call and being concerned about stalking him - hmmm, not too far off what is happening with Premier Wynne calling out for the PM.

I do think that in politics it makes strategic sense to have an enemy to point to and blame for things going wrong - or more to the point to distract from what is really going on. This is Marit's point, which I agree is the modus operandi of this provincial Liberal government.

Look Bernie, I have known you for too long and respect you too much to think you believe that actual work gets done at these conferences.

Yes, it is important that all levels of government work together to get things done - our system is wired that way. But every politician, from city councillors, to MPPs/MLAs, to federal MPs, whether you are a minister or not, has responsibilities to their constituents to get work done on their behalf.

And work gets done - mostly.  It involves working together, but our system is also adversarial, which makes for dysfunctional public gatherings when they are in front of the media. Work is being done and will continue to be done - if not, we have elections and the people of this great country will ultimately decide who is working for them and who isn't.


Marit Stiles:

Look, ultimately the elected leaders of our country need to talk. They need to be working together on solutions. There is a degree to which Wynne is saying one thing and doing another: she is saying she wants to meet with Harper and have a conversation but on the other hand she is taking pot-shots at every opportunity. The shots may well be warranted, but I think there is a degree to which she’s sending mixed messages.

Let's get beyond the gamesmanship and teenage tactics and start moving things forward.


Bernie Farber:

John, I agree that federal/provincial confabs can at times be as much for show as for business. However, I do know that the simple act of getting together does lead to conversation ... yes, sometimes even unwittingly so.

And John, I think you might even agree (at least silently if not out loud) that it

has always been the PM’s style to demand it be done his way or take the highway. It's for this reason that many Canadians and good many Ontarians have moved away from the Tories. In fact the more aloof the PM, the more he distances himself not just from the premiers but from everyday Canadians as well.

In the end good politicians know that being adversarial is one thing but being a good politician with an eye towards the country is what is needed. Folks like Bill Davis, Brian Mulroney and other Tories understood this well. Harper is cut from an altogether different and un-Canadian cloth.  

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : November 26, 2014

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