At the recent First Ministers’ meeting in Ottawa, Canada’s premiers discovered an uncomfortable truth about conversations with the federal government.
Just because the PM will meet with you, doesn’t mean you’ll be heard.
The premiers long grumbled about Stephen Harper being a missing partner at the table during the pompously labelled Council of the Federation meetings. Now Justin Trudeau and his ministers are on hand as the premiers fret, this time mainly over small business tax changes and legal marijuana.
But beyond the usual ‘productive meeting’ blather for the cameras, there is no evidence the Feds are willing to change course on either front.
The peril of not being heard is most acute for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who, already polling at used-car-salesperson popularity levels, cannot afford to carry any more baggage when Ontario goes to the polls in June of 2018.
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Most significant for Wynne are the proposed tax changes that recently had Finance Minister Bill Morneau on the defensive during a town hall in Oakville.
Concerns over the provincial minimum wage increasing to $15/hr by 2019, combined with the proposed elimination of so-called tax loopholes for small business have some economists predicting significant job losses in Ontario. It doesn’t matter if those predictions turn out to be wrong because votes will have been counted long before any meaningful employment data is collected.
In the meantime, just the perception of coming trouble may be enough to undo Wynne.
This is one of the reasons behind Ontario’s long history of opposing political parties at Queen’s Park and the House of Commons. Dalton McGuinty could blame Stephen Harper for cheating Ontario, while Mike Harris always had Jean Chretien to poke in the eye when needed.
Having stood so often hand in hand with Trudeau, Wynne has virtually no room to manoeuver if her federal partner does something that will cost her votes. Although the PM’s popularity remains high, there is a significant risk that a political fight over tax changes could end his political honeymoon just as Wynne will need Trudeau in all his selfie-taking glory.