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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.

It took over a year of cajoling by Premier Kathleen Wynne, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper finally succumbed to her public campaign for a meeting. They sat down together briefly just before the World Junior gold medal game on Tuesday, talking infrastructure and the Ring of Fire - but no commitments. So, whatever does it really mean?


Marit Stiles:

Ah, the long-awaited, entirely predictable meeting between PM and Premier has finally taken place. Despite all the drama, let's face it: this had to happen and it had to happen sooner rather than later. With a federal election on the horizon (however long that horizon might be is up for debate), Mr. Harper needs to smooth things out on the Ontario front and not seem to be too unreasonable.

Ms. Wynne's persistence was getting to be a bit of annoyance, I'm sure, even if I expect most Ontarians we as cynical about her motives as they are about Mr. Harper's. And to show up AGAIN in Toronto - even if it were for as auspicious an occasion as the World Juniors - without sharing a cuppa - would have looked positively rude.

What was accomplished? If Wynne is to be believed we are supposed to be happy that they are now TALKING at all and had a friendly chat. There's some sense of shared priorities around building infrastructure, supporting the manufacturing sector. But what about pensions? Did they talk about those nasty back-and-forths during the provincial election? Oh, to have been a fly on the wall...

In the meantime, I wonder if the Premier's call for more roads and infrastructure to support the Ring of Fire will get more traction, given Obama's announcement that he'll veto Congress vote if they support Keystone? Sadly, I suspect the theatrics will continue and the Ontario voters will continue to be in the dark about what's really taken place here.


Bernie Farber:

Marit, the fly on the wall analogy is one I can identify with closely… I cannot imagine it was easy for either the PM or the Premier. Nonetheless, that it took this level of cajoling to get the PM to respond and agree to a meeting has left him trying to pick up the pieces of a failed strategy.

I am not sure that this short meeting before one of the most anticipated junior hockey games in this century had much impact for either participant. I mean could they really have discussed anything of substance in 60-plus minutes? And with today’s recent announcement that Obama will veto Keystone (a project Wynne was never crazy about) there is even more to discuss.

As for the Premier’s advocacy to get the meeting, I strongly disagree with Marit - most Ontarians I have spoken with were totally onside with her. Honestly, I wonder had the Premier been a man, would the PM have treated HIM with such disdain? Just asking...


John Capobianco:

They say that holidays are always a good time to relax and reflect - and that the Christmas holidays are especially an opportune time to not only reflect but to take stock of the year that was as one prepares for the New Year. I guess such was the case with the Prime Minister - who must have realized that the Premier wasn't going to relent with her public call for a face-to-face meeting.

I am with Marit on this — the meeting was inevitable and being in Toronto for the Canada vs. Russia game provided a decent opportunity for the PM to meet with the Premier. However, the meeting and the post-meeting spin aside, there remains and will always be political and philosophical differences that no 60-minute meeting can or will resolve.

I take serious issue with Bernie's suggestion that if the Premier was a man that would change the way the PM approached the handling of the meeting. The PM has always been very consistent with the way he has dealt with federal/provincial relations and has always allowed his appropriate Ministers to work with their provincial counterparts to hammer out policy initiatives.

What will come out of this meeting is yet to be determined, but with 2015 being an election year, no one can predict what will or can happen.


Marit Stiles:

You both raise a good point about what can - or rather can't - be accomplished in a 60-minute meeting. And certainly John is correct that there are political differences that will never be resolved, but frankly they don't have to be. Yeah, Bernie, I'm a cynic when it comes to this meeting and the theatrics that built up to it... but I think we've all seen this show too many times: Conservatives and Liberals battling it out for the media when, at the end of the day, their agendas really don't differ that much.

Wynne has four years ahead of her filled with public asset sales and cuts. She has the time to stretch this out but she is going to need the federal government's help along the way. Harper's needs are more immediate and, frankly, straightforward: he needs votes in Ontario in 2015. He needs to take back some of those conservative votes that went to Liberals and New Democrats during the provincial election... and he needs to be seen to be taking Ontario's economic woes seriously.

I think we're all ready for some grown up discussions about our economy, the challenges we face in Ontario, and I welcome the Premier and PM meeting like adults to get this started. I just wish there was a longer-term, more mature view of what the country and province need to move forward, not the same old liberal-tory back and forth that seems to get us nowhere. Enough with the re-runs! Let's hope for some real change in 2015.

Bernie Farber:

John, the Jewish tradition Chanukah, which we celebrate this time of the year, is known as the holiday of freedom and revolution. Perhaps the PM understood that were he not to find a way to free himself from the immature position he took against a meeting with the Premier of Ontario it might very well have led to a “revolution” of thinking come the upcoming federal election.

And with the greatest of respect John I find your response to my query of why the PM chose to refuse a meeting with the Premier more of a dance around reality. As reported in the Star last month, “the prime minister has in effect punished her [Wynne] by publicly meeting with other provincial leaders - including four times with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard since he was elected in April.”

And Marit, according to the PM, the agendas of the federal government and the Ontario Liberals differ greatly, from pensions to Keystone.

Where Marit and I do agree however is that the PM is very nervous about Ontario, hence this meeting. And so he should be… ridings like York Centre, Eglinton-Lawrence, and yes, possibly even Thornhill given how close the provincial race was, are all in jeopardy of being lost. 2015 is shaping up to be quite a political year…


John Capobianco:

I hear you, Bernie - we all know that politics makes people do interesting things and affects judgements - for good and bad. The meeting happened, so lets put that behind us. What will come out of the meeting is where the focus should be - and you are both right here - the economy.

There is no question that jobs, especially manufacturing jobs and infrastructure investments, are key for both leaders. The Premier needs this investment for her to get out of the financial mess the Liberals are facing and the PM needs to ensure in an election year that his government is Ontario-friendly, given the vote-rich area that is the GTA where most of the infrastructure spending will occur.

The news that President Obama will veto any vote in favour of Keystone does add another twist to the Premier's asking for infrastructure investment towards the Ring of Fire. However, I feel confident that with the recent infrastructure announcements by the PM before the holiday break, this government is focused in the right areas and will continue to ensure the Canadian economy continues to head in the right direction - beginning here in Ontario.

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 : January 07, 2015

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