Wynne takes another jab at Stephen Harper while election campaigning in Ottawa

Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne gestures during a speech in Ottawa on Thursday, May 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne gestures during a speech in Ottawa on Thursday, May 8, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Only Ontario’s Liberals can stand up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is ignoring the needs of the people in Canada’s most populous province, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

Wynne took another swipe at Harper while campaigning for the June 12 election a short distance from Parliament Hill, repeating her long-standing complaint that Ontario puts $11 billion more into federal coffers than it gets back.

Speaking at an event organized by the Canada 2020 think-tank, the Liberal leader said that the prime minister’s tone-deaf attitude is jeopardizing Ontario’s fragile economic recovery.

“Right now, we have a federal government that actually is doing more to hurt that recovery than to help,” Wynne said.

“This year Ontario is going to receive $641 million less in major transfers from the federal government, and this is at a time when we can least afford the hit.”

Harper has also been silent on her challenge to match her party’s promise of $1 billion to build a transportation route to the mineral-rich Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, she said. The Conservatives have done more for the oil and gas industry than they have to help develop the massive but remote chromite deposit, which would create jobs in the hard-hit region and benefit struggling First Nations communities.

Wynne’s jabs at Harper have become a common occurrence on the first leg of the campaign, but date back to her rallying cry during a March 22 party convention where she called his antipathy towards pension reform “offensive and inexplicable.”

Her government proposed a mandatory made-in-Ontario pension plan after the federal Tories spurned their advances to enhance the Canada Pension Plan, saying it would be harmful to increase contributions from workers and employers until the economy gathers steam.

Harper panned the proposal last week, saying people prefer tax breaks as a reward for saving for retirement, rather than having their taxes hiked to force them to save.

Wynne argues people aren’t able to save for retirement and the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan wouldn’t harm the economy because it would be phased in gradually starting in 2017.

Treasury Board president Tony Clement called it a “huge tax grab” from a government that wants to hike hydro rates.

“What is at face in this Ontario campaign is a premier, a Liberal premier, who wants to raise taxes on businesses and ordinary citizens by $100 a month,” he said during question period.

Wynne also directed her fire at her Tory rival Tim Hudak — who once rubbed shoulders with federal heavyweights like Clement at former premier Mike Harris’ cabinet table — suggesting he’s a Harper yes man.

“They’re playing on the same team,” she said. “They are taking the same positions on these issues of real importance to the people of Ontario.”

The provincial Tories say it’s a common tactic for a government in trouble to blame Ottawa for their problems.

“I understand why she’s doing this, she’s trying to deflect attention from her own record like the gas plants, the loss of jobs and the fact that Ontario now is near the back of the pack when it comes to job creation,” Hudak said in Vaughan, north of Toronto.

“I want to see an Ontario that’s strong, that’s moving forward, that’s creating jobs, not on our knees begging for more money.”

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Wynne’s ongoing feud with Harper is out of sync with what voters really care about.

“Whatever happened to the mediator premier that we used to see when she first became the leader of her party?” she said at a campaign stop in Niagara Falls.

“I think the people of Ontario would rather the debate be about that we need good jobs in this province.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014