Harper called Tory "the next premier of Ontario" and declared: "Ontario needs John Tory because a strong Canada needs a strong Ontario and because John Tory is a nation builder."
Queen's Park veterans cannot recall a previous prime minister attending such a partisan provincial event, least not having a speaking role in it.
To the best of their recollection, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin did not attend provincial Liberal fundraisers in this province, nor did Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney go to provincial Conservative fundraisers.
"What it tells you is that this is the most partisan prime minister we have seen in many years," said one seasoned Queen's Park MPP.
Nor can the juxtaposition of Harper's brief meeting with McGuinty and his attendance at the Conservative fundraiser have been accidental.
The current political landscape allows for a curious historical precedent. Canada's most populus province is relegated to the fringes of the national government's thought process. The federal/provincial tension articulates a "regionalism" that people in Ontario have largely been immune too. Canadians first, Ontarians a distant second in terms of psyche. Harper's strategy may have the effect of galvanizing Ontarians against a perceived common threat. McGuinty, already emerging as a pseudo opposition leader, can frame himself as the defender of Ontario against the feds- this strategy has been quite effective elsewhere in Canada. Harper's hyper-politicism allows McGuinty the opportunity to show strong leadership and look Ontario's caretaker, which to date may be his biggest flaw heading into another election.
McGuinty will go to the the "fiscal imbalance" talks with the sole purpose of defending Ontario from the perceived incursions. If McGuinty is successful, then he demonstrates his effectiveness as Premier, if Ontario gets the shaft, he can play the "disenfranchised" card. Obviously, John Tory will attempt to use the argument that McGuinty is obstructionist and we need a Premier that will work with Ottawa, but there is a counter to this line and McGuinty has already begun to articulate it:
The Liberal premier chose his words carefully Friday as he responded to the comments by the new Conservative prime minister.
"I don't think it's helpful when it comes to establishing a good, positive, working relationship between the people's representative - duly elected - and the prime minister of Canada," McGuinty said. "But I will continue to make efforts to reach out to the prime minister."
However, Ontario Education Minister Sandra Pupatello wasn't nearly as diplomatic as her boss Friday in criticizing Harper's actions at the Conservative fundraiser.
"I think it is total inexperience on the part of the prime minister," Pupatello said in an interview. "He may really not realize how rude his behaviour is being interpreted, never mind by us, but by the people of Ontario."
As long as McGuinty gives the appearance that he is "reaching out", he blunts any criticism that he is unnecessarily confrontational. McGuinty must frame Harper as picking this fight and outside factors will serve as evidence. Afterall, Harper's electoral strategy is well known, which gives McGuinty's argument outside weight. Stephen Harper is "bad for Ontario" may be the buzzword for the next federal election. Good luck achieving a majority by writing off a third of the national seats- it's just bad math.