Monday, May 16, 2005

May 16, 2005: Harper meets McGuinty in Ottawa

Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto Star
May 17, 2005 Tuesday

LENGTH: 602 words

HEADLINE: McGuinty meets with Harper

BYLINE: Sean Gordon, Toronto Star



Premier Dalton McGuinty says he got a sympathetic hearing from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in an hour-long meeting yesterday about Ontario's call for a fairer funding deal from Ottawa.

McGuinty secured a promise that if Harper were to win the next federal election campaign - which could be launched in a matter of days - he would consult with provincial leaders about easing the so-called "fiscal gap."

Ontario pegs the shortfall at $23 billion, and while McGuinty obtained no specific funding promises from Harper, he said the Tory leader "expressed sympathy with respect to the broader issue of fiscal imbalance."

Calling the discussion a simple introductory meeting, McGuinty said he hopes the five-year, $5.75 billion deal he inked with Martin 10 days ago will be formalized as quickly as possible, hopefully before a campaign starts.

The Conservative leader pledged he would honour any written agreement signed with Ottawa if his party gains power.

McGuinty studiously avoided choosing sides among the federal parties as Parliament heads toward a crucial vote this Thursday on the federal budget.

"I have treated this as a non-partisan issue in Ontario ... I have met with the Prime Minister and told him I would be meeting with Mr. Harper, now I have met with Mr. Harper and am looking forward to arranging a meeting with (NDP Leader Jack) Layton," McGuinty said after the meeting.

NDP officials said no meeting had yet been arranged with Layton, but officials were juggling their schedules to arrange one.

McGuinty also renewed his vow to raise the question of the gap "before the election, during the election and after the election," and was cagey about saying who - if anyone - he'll support in the upcoming campaign.

Martin spokesperson Scott Reid said the government knew McGuinty would be seeking out Harper. "No matter what assurances Mr. Harper provides in the run-up to a possible election the fact remains that his party is opposed to the new deal for cities, opposed to combating climate change and opposed to affordable child care," Reid said. "If he votes to kill this budget, Ontario will have been told all that they need to know about Mr. Harper and his priorities."

Asked whether he would prefer having Martin or Harper as his principal interlocutor, McGuinty was diplomatic: "Give me the chance to chat with Mr. Layton and then I'll give you my opinion."

When asked about the optics of a Liberal premier meeting with Harper on the eve of a vote that could scuttle the Liberal government, McGuinty said: "I will do whatever it takes to advance the case for fairness on behalf of the people of Ontario."

"I will be voting for my brother, you can count on it," he said, referring to Ottawa South MP David McGuinty.

At Queen's Park, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said it was a positive thing that McGuinty met with Harper.

"The Liberal Party of Canada might find it provocative, but I don't think they should," said Tory. "We have to get over this feeling that because you're a Liberal therefore you can never meet with a Conservative."

Tory added he spoke by telephone with Harper for 10 minutes on Saturday about the issue and has also discussed the fiscal imbalance with Immigration Minister Joe Volpe and with John Godfrey, minister of state for infrastructure.

"Mr. McGuinty is pursuing and promoting Ontario's interests and I'm supporting him in that regard. I've had some questions about some of his methods but he's doing what he should be doing and he's indicated quite properly that he would go and have a meeting with (Layton) as well," Tory said.

with files from Robert Benzie

GRAPHIC: Tom Hanson CP Premier Dalton McGuinty arrives on Parliament Hill for his meeting with federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper yesterday. McGuinty says the fiscal imbalance is a non-partisan issue.

LOAD-DATE: May 17, 2005