For almost a decade, relations between the prime minister of Canada and two different premiers of Ontario have been almost uniformly awful.
For numerous reasons, Stephen Harper just never connected with either Dalton McGuinty, premier from 2003 to 2013, or Kathleen Wynne, whom the PM refused to meet for more than a year after she took over the job.
But we are now about to embark on what could potentially be an era of unparalleled cooperation, not just between Queen’s Park and Parliament Hill, but with Toronto City Hall as well.
It’s hard to recall a time when the prime minister of Canada, the premier of Ontario, and the mayor of Toronto had as cordial, even close, a relationship as the current office holders do. Despite defeating him in her riding of Don Valley West in the 2007 provincial election, Kathleen Wynne and John Tory have become genuinely friendly — and not just “political friends” or “Facebook friends” but real friends. They genuinely enjoy each other’s company and have tried to create a constructive relationship between their staffs as well. The recent appointment of Siri Agrell, a former Wynne staffer to Tory’s team, is further evidence of that.
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Buttressing that is the unusually close and positive relationship the premier has with the incoming prime minister. Wynne barnstormed for Trudeau in a way no other Ontario premier has since Bill Davis did it for Brian Mulroney more than 30 years ago.
The temptation will now be for Queen’s Park watchers to ask, how will Trudeau return the favour? Will he feel indebted to Wynne for her support and therefore help Ontarians in a way Harper never did?
The morning after the most astonishing election in our memory, Wynne insisted she had no checklist of items she wanted satisfied, that she did not have a “transactional relationship” with Trudeau. Having said that, the premier hopes and plans to make progress on improving income security, either through an enhanced Canada Pension Plan or her own Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. She wants both levels of government to move ahead on creating a Cap and Trade market to reduce harmful emissions — an agreement she already has in place with California and Quebec. And, of course, increasing transfer payments to Ontario for health care, education, or other services would also keep things on a happier plane between the two.
But here’s the big gamble. It’s so often the case in politics that where you stand depends on where you sit. Despite Trudeau, Wynne, and Tory all being moderate, centrist politicians, at the end of the day, they do not have identical agendas. Those agendas will inevitably come into conflict from time to time. The premier acknowledged such at her news conference the morning after election night. Usually, that’s when Ontarians are reminded that they need to balance what they’ve done federally with what they want to do provincially. It will therefore be incumbent on both Trudeau and Wynne to prove to people that cooperative federalism can work, that Stephen Harper was wrong to almost never meet the premiers and for him to contribute to such bellicose relations with Ontario.
It’s not a slam dunk that this will happen. A decade ago, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin had disagreements that boiled over to the point where the relationship between the two governments became fractious.
Can Trudeau and Wynne prevent history from repeating? If they can’t, we know who the happiest guy in Ontario will be. His name is Patrick Brown, and he’s the leader of the Ontario PC Party.
Image credit: Facebook/JustinPJTrudeau