Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has been calling on the federal government to play a role in the Ring of Fire. Wynne wrote to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Nov. 8 asking him to share the costs of developing the mineral-rich region in northern Ontario. Mark Blinch/Canadian Press
Just hours into the Ontario election, senior federal Conservatives leaped into the fight, delivering unvarnished scorn for some of Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne's signature policies.
In an interview on CBC Radio's The House, Finance Minister Joe Oliver broke with the convention of keeping out of provincial elections and delivered a nasty assessment of the newly released Liberal budget.
"This is the route to economic decline, not the route to economic growth or job creation," Oliver said. He went on to challenge the Ontario Liberal promise to erase the deficit by 2017- 2018.
"It doesn't look like [Finance Minister Charles Sousa's] plan to balance the books in a few years is all that likely," Oliver said. When asked about the Ontario plan to use deficit spending to stimulate, Oliver said that will "compound the problem" of slow growth facing Ontario.
Oliver then went further, taking aim at another key plank in the Liberal campaign platform: the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, an idea meant to supplement the Canada Pension Plan.
"This $3½-billion tax on workers and businesses would disadvantage Ontario and kill jobs," Oliver said. "This isn't the time to do it."
Oliver's comments echoed a statement made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday, who dismissed the Liberal idea as an unnecessary "tax hike."
Wynne has long complained that the federal government will not expand the Canada Pension Plan to help retirees, calling the issue "offensive."
Her government's made-in-Ontario solution relies on contributions from workers and employers.
Heated talk on the Ring of Fire
In an interview also airing on CBC Radio's The House, Wynne said she does not believe Ontario has a partner in the federal government.
"There are actions that the federal government has taken and is taking that are harming Ontario," Wynne said. "If we have a federal partner that was stepping up to work with we would be in a better position."
Wynne told CBC that attacking the federal government over issues like the pensions is part of her election strategy, something she made clear the day she launched the campaign.
"We need a premier who is willing to stand up to Stephen Harper," Wynne said as she announced the June 12 election date. She also clearly sees resource development in Northern Ontario's so-called Ring of Fire area as a wedge issue.
"The federal government pours billions of dollars into the oilsands, but when it comes to the Ring of Fire, Stephen Harper has not acted."
The new federal minister of natural resources, Greg Rickford, hit back, calling Wynne's statement about the Ring of Fire "nonsense."
Not content to fight a two-front battle with the provincial Progressive Conservatives and NDP, Wynne believes picking a fight with the federal government is a winning strategy.
The Harper government appears happy to oblige.