11.20.2014 05:44 PM

In Friday’s Sun: respect

Canada is more than “a confederation of shopping centres,” Pierre Trudeau once said, decrying the narrow agendas of provincial Premiers.

It is more than that. It has to be more than that. In Trudeau’s view – and I believe he expressed it this way, once, but the quote remains elusive – Canada is also more than a grouping of feudal fiefdoms, held together by bribes doled out by the central government.

In constitutional negotiations, in negotiations of transfer payments and the like, Pierre Trudeau was (in)famously dismissive of the petty ambitions of the Premiers. No one could ever accuse the long-serving Prime Minister of being water boy to regional interests. While he wrote books about the perfection of federalism, his was always a federalism with a strong central government beating at the centre.

And whether you approve of Trudeau’s vision of Canada or not, one fact cannot be denied: Pierre Trudeau would meet with the Premiers. He did so a lot.

He may have disagreed with them. He may have castigated them. But he always remembered they were the duly-elected representatives of the people of their home province, and he treated them as such.

Trudeau did not deny the Premiers the respect their office was due. Do you remember, as I do, weekday evenings spent with Knowlton Nash, taking in reports by David Halton and Peter Mansbridge about endless First Ministers’ gatherings in Ottawa’s Conference centre? Footage of Trudeau’s baleful gaze, arms crossed, as he listened to Peter Lougheed or Rene Levesque demand more, ever more?

If pressed, Stephen Harper would likely agree with Pierre Trudeau on one point: provincial Premiers do not ever travel to Ottawa to state that they are doing fine, thank you very much, and that they require no further federal help. They do not seek meetings with Prime Ministers – be they named Trudeau or Harper or Mulroney – to express satisfaction with the status quo.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, in my view, is already establishing herself as one of the finest provincial leaders to emerge in a generation. She is no separatist like Levesque was, or a perennial antagonist like Lougheed. She is a believer in Canada, and the Canadian concept. She does not take cheap shots at Harper simply because he is a Conservative, and she a Liberal.

But Harper is treating the leader of Canada’s largest province with contempt. This was seen vividly – appallingly – this week, when Wynne released a series of letters seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister about issues ranging from pensions to infrastructure.

Harper’s response? Go “work with the responsible federal ministers,” he wrote, quote unquote. You, a Premier, go meet with my underlings.

This is beyond shameful – it is literally contrary to the way Canada works, and Canada’s traditions. When I had the privilege to work for Jean Chretien, I witnessed first-hand Chretien’s approach.

When he was in Ottawa, he would always be in Question Period. When an Opposition leader asked a question, it would be Chretien who would endeavour to answer it. And when he travelled on the wildly-successfully Team Canada missions, Chretien would spend days in close quarters with the Premiers – no bureaucrats, no aides. Just the First Ministers.

“A French Canadian respecting British Parliamentary traditions,” Chretien once said. “Think of it!”

Harper should think about it, too. His refusal to meet with Kathleen Wynne does not merely disrespect the Ontario Premier – it disrespects the 13.6 million people she was chosen to represent. It disrespects our traditions.

Stephen Harper must meet with Kathleen Wynne, full stop. She may not be coming to see him to flatter him, or engage in small talk. But she is a Premier, and she deserves one thing above all else:



  1. Curtis in Calgary says:

    “This is beyond shameful – it is literally contrary to the way Canada works, and Canada’s traditions.”

    Since when has Stevie ever respected Canadian traditions and institutions?

  2. Terry Brown says:

    This just in: Harper is a narrow-minded, petty, hyper-political douchenozzle.

  3. Leon says:

    NO he doesn’t, and if Wynne has a specific problem she should go to the responsible federal minister to resolve her problem. I hope she’s not trying to usurp power by trying to get direct agreements with PM Harper and ignore the specific minister. Of course, we know what Wynne is doing; she’s just grandstanding knowing that the liberal media will promote her political stance against the Conservative government and thus give Justin Trudeau another boost in Ontario.

    We know that Justin Trudeau is incapable of negotiating complex agreements with the provinces and that’s likely why she would prefer Justin, a weak leader. Nevertheless, after the Wynne Liberals start talking about her Carbon Tax, she will be toast.

  4. Cynthia Harbour says:

    Dear Leon,
    I don’t often post here, as I am not as well informed or erudite (or testosterone laden) as many of the commenters (all of whom I enjoy). However, I find it absolutely offensive that PMSH would shunt the Premier of any of Canada’s provinces off to some minister. At the very least, as a gesture of respect, he could have met with her to exchange pleasantries and a cup of coffee. No one in their right mind imagines that PMSH would enter into any kind of agreement with Wynne or Ontario. PMSH prefers to spend taxpayer dollars flaunting CPC as yet un-official programs, building war monuments while actual veterans see their support systems closed down…and this while showing a significant unspent budget. The bloody list goes on. The Prime Minister would rather spend money on just about anything except whatever Ontario wants or needs so no danger of some kind of backroom secret fantasyland Wynne/Harper deal. He could have afforded her and the people of Ontario a smidgen of respect. As an Ontarian, I am getting pretty damned sick of being treated like a third class citizen by the Harper government. 2015 can’t come soon enough for me.

    • Bobby says:

      Get a grip. How do you know that Harper isn’t treating Wynne exactly the same way her treats every other Premier’s request for a meeting?
      You don’t. We don’t.
      Just because Wynne asks and then spins about it to the media doesn’t give her priority of ANYTHING.
      Not a Harper fan but I’m REALLY not a fan of Wynne.

  5. JH says:

    I’m sorry WK but I remember well many of those meetngs with PET. In the end he basically cut way back on them. Other PMs did the same over the years, because they just became a forum for yelling at the PM in front of the Press, posing for photo-ops for the folks back home and demanding more money. They out lived their usefulness long ago, when provincial leaders continually bragged how they ‘gave’ it to the PM and stood up for their province. All of it BS. It has gone on forever and any PM who subjects himself to that kind of grandstanding deserves everything that happens. I’d say Trudeau would chair one such meeting, no more, and in fact I’m doubtful if his brain trust would even subject him to one. And they’d be smart not to.

  6. L. Maxton says:

    Hypothetical WYNNE-HARPER Meeting


    Listen, we’re broke, we need more federal money.


    Raise provincial taxes and or cut provincial services. There is no way I can go to my people, especially with oil prices tanking, and say more money is going to Wynne so you folks in the West, I have to raise your taxes and cut your services so libertines like Jian Ghomeshi and the glitterati of Toronto can live in high style. Or if things are that bad, allow the provincial apparatus to be subsumed by the Federal Government as a ward of the State as the emirs of Ontario evidently cannot manage the finances of their people properly.



    Is that pant suit from Holt’s?

    HARPER leans back, pale, and gently strokes a cat that has jumped onto his lap. The tension hangs in the air.

  7. Scotian says:

    Typical Harper, his contempt for our basic governing principles and structures know no bounds. I remember PMs meeting with Separatist Premiers because it was the way our Confederation was structured, and I bet if Trudeau or Chretien or Martin had treated the Premier of Alberta the way he has been treating Wynne there would have been Harper rants to the highest heavens about how disrespectful and contemptuous such behaviour is. This is why those of us who point out the Straussian basis of the Calgary School, Harper’s core beliefs in said Calgary School, are not raging fanatics (as some have characterized us as) but pointing out the reality of who Harper is and what he believes. This sort of behaviour of Harper is EXACTLY what a Straussian acts like, and in part what so many of us tried to warn about what Harper was truly like. Their contempt for democratic governing structures of any form is part of the basic core of Straussianism, which is why it is something to be feared in anyone seeking high political office in the first place.

    Kinsella is exactly right in this. Harper is showing naked contempt for the office of Premier of Ontario, indeed he has been showing contempt for the Office of Premier in general of all Provinces by his lack of anything remotely resembling real federal-provincial conferences, of the type Canada always knew prior to the rise of Harper. This is why Harper is qualitatively different than any prior PM in our history, and why he is so much worse than any other PM as well. It is so bad that I have taken to thinking of Harper as the Destroyer and Salter of the Scorched Earth because of how he and his government operates and wrecks systems of government decades old, especially since he got the majority. It was always about his contempt for the institutions of government that made him so dangerous to Canada and Canadians, and because so few people care about process issues this threat was not well understood as the real “hidden” agenda, even though it was “hidden” in plain sight.

    In all my life Harper is the only political leader that I cannot find a substantive positive as a governing leader at either the federal or Provincial level. This is not about being liberal, progressive, centrist, or conservative, this is about having basic respect for the laws and traditions that have governed this nation since its founding, and Harper has time after time after time shown he has none of these. This business with Premier Wynne is only the latest in a long strong of such examples. Hopefully by now enough Canadians have seen why it was such a bad idea to give this man the benefit of the doubt, and I personally doubt he ever would have gotten a majority if it hadn’t been for just how horrible a leader Ignatief was of the main alternative party in the minds of most Canadians.

  8. Ridiculosity says:

    You know why he won’t meet with Wynne?

    Because she frightens him. Harper knows he’s finally facing someone who will stand up to him.

    Bullies don’t like that.

  9. Al in Cranbrook says:

    Maybe the PM is just fed up with this particular government of Ontario sucking the life out of Canada’s economy, and blaming everyone but themselves for it…



  10. Mike Bluth says:

    Peter Lougheed was anything but a perennial antagonist.

    tsk tsk, soon to be former potential #tordan Liberal nomination candidate, a potential MP needs to be truthful in his analysis.

    Lougheed rightfully stood up for Alberta against the poisonous NEP. Other than that he had fruitful relations with Ottawa. A leader in the Gang of Eight, etc…

  11. Duane says:

    Let’s face it, the only reasons Wynne wants to talk to Harper, have dollar signs in front of them. I suspect that until Wynne shows she can stop ripping off Ontario taxpayers and get her own house in order, Harper is not going to let her start ripping off the ROC taxpayers as well….beyond the payments currently on the books. I say, good for him.

  12. Steve T says:

    Things have changed a lot since PET’s days. Most notably, these days provinces don’t really have much interest in the federal government as anything other than a cash machine. The new normal in politics seems to be trickle-up blamestorming. Municipal governments blame the province and the feds for their fiscal woes, and provinces blame the feds for their fiscal woes. No one will take responsibility for their own fiscal mess – which Wynne and Ontario have, in spades.

    Not that PMSH shouldn’t meet with Wynne. He should. But let’s not kid ourselves that the situation is the same as 20 or 30 years ago. Now, every conversation between a province and the feds is simply a ploy for money, and an excuse to blame the feds for provincial mis-management.

  13. Bobby says:

    This column reads as if your election campaign has already begun WK despite your insisting you’re not yet decided.

  14. Joe says:

    So when Don Getty was premier of Alberta and spending the province into penury the Premier of Alberta should had a one on one with the PM of Canada to ask for more money to squander on pie in the sky projects? With a few more billions Don might have got his magnesium plant up and running….until he ran out of federal cash. From 2000 miles away the PM handled the request from Premier Wynne exactly right. By the way Canada was founded as a Confederacy which I believe PM Harper respects a lot more than PM Pierre Trudeau did. I think that respect is one of the reasons separatism in Quebec is a non starter. In a Confederacy the Provinces run their affairs and the Federal government looks after the areas of provincial joint interest like foreign affairs defense and inter-provincial matters. Thus it is wrong for the Federal government to give money to a Provincial government to fund something like a provincial pension plan.

    • doconnor says:

      The PM was quick to fund Rob Ford’s Scarborough subway, despite the fact the projected ridership doesn’t justify a subway.

      • Joe says:

        There is a federal infrastructure program from which cities can draw funds to build things like LRT. The Toronto funding is not and was not unique as cities across Canada can and regularly do draw infrastructure funding from that program. IOW Rob the doper Ford did not get special treatment from the PM.

  15. Nicole says:

    Doesn’t Harper need Ontario to form a majority government? Outside of the small hardcore Harper supporters who feel that he can do no wrong (and apparently have time to post here all morning), shouldn’t Harper at least have the courtesy to meet in person with the elected Premier of the most populous province in Canada? Like it or not Wynne was elected with a majority and refusing to even meet with her in person shows contempt not only to her but to the voters of Ontario. He doesn’t need to agree with her or give her any money, but he should meet with her.

  16. doconnor says:

    The PM was quick to fund Rob Ford’s Scarborough subway, despite the fact the projected ridership doesn’t justify a subway.

  17. Ron says:

    “Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion … And whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or ten governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country may be.”

    ~ Stephen Harper MP

    (Speech to the Colin Brown Memorial Dinner, National Citizens Coalition, 1994)

  18. dave says:

    Payback is a bitch……..remember when she refused to see Rob Ford?

  19. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Harper is slipping tactically speaking. If this is his new standard operating procedure, might as well tell Gentleman Jim now that he might as well never bother showing up in the former Talkawa.

  20. Tiger says:

    Wynne took plenty of cheap shots at Harper during the campaign and after.

    Which is her right, of course — the PM is a good foil, and Ontarians often split their ballots.

    Harper doesn’t have to dance to her tune, though.

  21. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    There are cheap shots but then there are effective cheap shots. As regards the latter, think Dion, Ignatieff, Rae and increasingly, shots against Harper.

    Wynne’s is a highly effective political strategy to reinforce and expand her support in Ontario. Shitting on Harper is likely to pay big political dividends going forward.

    The PM knows that perfectly well. No wonder he has no desire to make nice with the big cheese in TO. A better strategy would be to meet with her with lots of cameras present and effectively turn the tables on her. If anyone can pull that one off, it’s Harper.

  22. King Prick says:

    The quote came as a slap to Diefenbaker and what Trudeau said was “a consortium of shopping centres.” It’s a black and white clip during a media scrum after a stump speech. It can be found on Youtube but you’ll have to be patient and search for it.

    And for the record, Pierre was right and that’s exactly what we’ve become. Walmart, Target, Smart Centres, Superstores… The country has gone to shit and he was the only one that saw it coming. Now, how do we take it back?

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