TORONTO – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne started her bid for re-election on Saturday by engaging in a little fed-bashing, taking aim at Prime Minister Stephen Harper over pensions.
The campaign doesn’t officially start until Wednesday but Wynne had a couple of hastily called events, which she used to attack Harper for criticizing her proposed Ontario pension plan. As the election was triggered on Friday, Harper called the pension plan — a centrepiece of the Liberals’ re-election bid — a tax that won’t fly with voters.
Wynne shot back Saturday, saying that if Harper isn’t willing to back the retirement plan then he shouldn’t interfere.
“The first choice would have been to have an improvement and enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan, but the federal government is not interested in doing that,” she said.
“So quite frankly I think that if Prime Minister Harper isn’t interested in partnering with us then he should move out of the way,” said Wynne, repeating a refrain she used earlier this year.
Wynne called the prime minister’s comments “unusual,” adding she’s not “in this race to run against Stephen Harper.”
Wynne in turn accused the Harper government of balancing its books “on the backs of the people of Ontario” by cutting federal payments for health and social spending — a long-standing bone of contention between Wynne and the federal government.
In stark contrast to Harper’s high profile comments on Friday, his office had a more muted response Saturday saying the election is for Ontario voters to decide and the federal Conservatives will work with whatever government is elected.
The province was plunged into a campaign for a June 12 election on Friday after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announced her party would vote against the Liberal budget, saying they could no longer prop up a government plagued by scandal.
In a party event on Saturday scheduled before the election call, Horwath gave a speech full of populist notes, charging that Wynne’s government isn’t “grounded in the real world.”
“In the real world you’re adding up the bills, every single bill, at the kitchen table hoping to squeeze out some savings. At Queen’s Park, public sector CEOs buy themselves speedboats with your money.”
“In the real world, if you make a mistake you own up to it or face the consequences. At Queen’s Park, you wipe the hard drive and hope you get away from it,” she said, alluding to a police investigation into the alleged deletion of documents in the gas plants scandal.
Wynne has said no documents were deleted under her watch, adding the police allegations stem from a period before she became premier.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak kept a low-profile on Saturday.
Wynne decided not to let her government face weeks of criticism before a budget confidence vote it would lose, so she went to Lt.-Gov. David Onley and asked him to dissolve the legislature.
Wynne said she wanted to see her spending-heavy fiscal blueprint passed, and is laying responsibility for the election at the feet of the opposition parties.
Several large labour groups, including Unifor and the Ontario Federation of Labour, had urged the NDP to pass the budget and avoid an election, but public sector unions complained the fiscal plan puts jobs at risk.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union — which has been in a tough labour fight with the Liberals — said they support Horwath’s call to go to the polls.
Even though Wynne asked to have the legislature dissolved on Friday, and it won’t sit again until after the June 12 election, the campaign period isn’t officially underway until next Wednesday.
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