Premier Dalton McGuinty’s political honeymoon with Prime Minister Stephen Harper may be over.
McGuinty, a Liberal who did everything but campaign for the Conservative leader during the recent federal election and then lavished praise on him for his Ontario-centric cabinet choices, says he is “very concerned” about the future of equalization.
As Ontario officials gear up for their first meeting with federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty next week, McGuinty expressed alarm Wednesday at what he interprets as signals from Ottawa.
Sources at Queen’s Park predict changes to the federal wealth-sharing program could result in Ontario paying out an additional $900 million a year to poorer provinces.
“We’re very concerned about that,” the premier told reporters.
McGuinty has been crusading to reduce the $23 billion gap between what Ontario taxpayers send to Ottawa and what is returned to the province in transfers and services.
During the campaign, Harper effectively endorsed that stance, but this week senior provincials said they fear the new prime minister will revamp equalization in a way that would cost Ontario.
“We have to be genuinely concerned. There’s a risk,” said a high-ranking insider.
McGuinty publicly echoed that with a warning for Harper.
“I want to make sure that he understands that we are watching this file very carefully and we look forward to sitting down with him to ensure that Ontario’s interests are not compromised and that the $23 billion gap does not grow as a result of those changes that he wants to make,” the premier said.
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory noted Harper has delivered “a broad and repeated commitment to address the fiscal imbalance” and help Ontario.
“There was a noticeable change in the attitude from the positive, constructive attitude in Mr. McGuinty’s commitment to work with Mr. Harper that came out the first day,” said Tory.
“I knew it wouldn’t last."
We were just hoping they'd stay together for the sake of the kids.