Ontario’s Wynne, Quebec’s Couillard forge central Canadian alliance – by Jane Taber (Globe and Mail – August 22, 2014)

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Ontario and Quebec are forging a central Canadian alliance to co-operate on issues, including potentially expanding electricity trade, hoping their combined clout will bring back prosperity to both provinces.

Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne and Quebec’s Philippe Couillard announced the new regional partnership in Quebec City on Thursday. It is the first time the rookie Liberal premiers – both leading so-called have-not provinces – have met in person. According to one senior Ontario official, there is “a lot of personal like-mindedness and great rapport between the two.”

A bullish Mr. Couillard said the new central Canadian alliance signals the two provinces are “back as a very important block of influence in the country.”

“I think by acting together we will be more efficient,” he said. “When we have common concerns like infrastructure, like climate change, like energy strategy, it’s good that we voice those concerns together … Western provinces do the same, Maritime provinces do the same. It was time that Quebec and Ontario, again, do that.”

As have-not provinces, Ontario and Quebec rely on millions of dollars of federal equalization payments as they struggle in the federation economically.

Ontario is under pressure to reinvent itself as the high-productivity manufacturing sector continues to decline and the Liberals struggle to wrestle down a $12.5-billion deficit and record-high debt. Still, Ms. Wynne has taken a go-slow approach, reintroducing the $130-billion budget that provoked the fall of the Liberal minority government. In Quebec, meanwhile, Mr. Couillard has adopted an austerity budget and launched a spending and taxation review aimed at tackling a $2.4-billion deficit and balancing the budget by 2015-16.

On the issue of energy transmission, the premiers say they will “explore the viability of expanding electricity trade between Ontario and Quebec.”

Electricity rates are a sore point among Ontarians who have seen them triple over the past 10 years under the Liberal government. Asked if Ontario will buy more energy from Quebec, Ms. Wynne said it “would be a possibility.” She said “it has to be a good deal for Ontarians as well,” adding that she doesn’t know what the details would be yet, “but it is something we should look at.”

On infrastructure, the premiers want to see the federal government provide stable and predictable funding – and increase their share of it.

“It is known all over the world that the fastest solution to a job crisis is the construction of infrastructure,” Mr. Couillard said.

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