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Ontario Election: Wynne Lashes Out At Harper Over Pensions, Ring Of Fire

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OTTAWA — Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne lashed out at Prime Minister Stephen Harper again Thursday, saying he's neglected Canada's largest province and she's the only leader capable of standing up to him.

In a breakfast speech, Wynne said Harper has shortchanged Ontario through transfer payments, failed to invest in the development of the Ring of Fire, and ignored the coming pension crisis.

"Right now, on a number of important issues, the interests of the people of Ontario are at odds with the policies of Stephen Harper's government," Wynne told the mostly Liberal crowd assembled for a Canada 2020 event a few blocks from Parliament Hill.

"In a very real way, the federal government is balancing its budget on the backs of Ontarians."

Ontario needs a leader who will stand up to Harper, Wynne said.

"But there has been no evidence that [Progressive Conservative leader] Tim Hudak is willing to do that," she said.

"They are playing on the same team, they are taking the same positions on these issues of real importance to the people of Ontario."

Ottawa is giving Ontario $641 million less in major transfers this year, the provincial Liberal leader said. The federal government plans to take in millions in employment insurance premiums it doesn't need from Ontarians' paycheques, she said. And the federal Conservatives are ignoring one of the most promising mineral development opportunities in Ontario in more than a century: the Ring of Fire, she added.

Ottawa will provide cash for pipelines in Alberta and hydro projects in Atlantic Canada, but it won’t help Northern Ontario, Wynne said.

On pensions, she said that she and the prime minister are deeply at odds. Harper believes Canadians are "willfully" not taking responsibility to save for their own pensions, while Wynne said she believes people don't have the capacity to save for their retirement.

"The federal Conservatives keep punting their obligation to help Canadians prepare for retirement," she said. "We can’t wait any long for leadership from Ottawa, we have an opportunity and an obligation to act."

The provincial and federal Tories say Wynne's attacks are a desperate attempt to change the channel from her own government’s spending scandals and $12.5-billion deficit.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement said he takes issue with Wynne's criticism.

"[It's] a campaign technique to deflect attention from the disastrous record of the Ontario Liberal government, economic record as well as gas plants and shredding emails and 40 percent hikes in hydro bills," he told reporters Thursday.

"I personally want the election of Tim Hudak as premier of Ontario. I personally do, but we’ll work with anybody who forms the government, of course, in the national interest and the provincial interest."

Wynne told reporters Thursday that she has no plans to run her entire campaign using the Harper’s government as a scapegoat in order to distract voters from her party’s record.

"I would say that is not the case, I mean I have been talking about...transportation, the need for investments in Ontario. We have a very clear plan that lays out our strategy for creating jobs in this province," she said. "But, I will say, that part of that plan does involve finding ways to work with the federal government and standing up to them when they are making decisions that harm Ontario."

The Liberal premier has so far spent several days on campaign trail attacking the Prime Minister as an uninterested partner.

This week, she singled out Harper’s generous parliamentary pension saying he would receive about ten times the maximum payout available under the CPP.

After Finance Minister Joe Oliver described her budget as "the route to economic decline," Wynne accused Ottawa of "taking over the Conservative voice" in the Ontario election.

Oliver has also criticized her proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan saying it amounted to a $3.5-billion tax on workers and businesses and would kill jobs.

Wynne said she hoped Harper wasn’t playing politics by refusing to hear her out just because she's a provincial Liberal.

Jason MacDonald, Harper's chief spokesperson, told The Huffington Post Canada in an email that any suggestion the federal government has cut transfers to Ontario is false.

He added Ottawa has welcomed Ontario's interest in the Ring of Fire but the province needs to prioritize the project for funding under the New Building Canada Fund.

On pensions, MacDonald said what Wynne is really proposing is a payroll tax increase at a time when Canadians want tax relief.

"Presumably, these are all issues that will be debated when Ms. Wynne turns her attention to the parties she is actually running against in the provincial election," he wrote.

With a file from the Canadian Press

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