Amid U.S. tariff threat, Ontario’s Wynne positions herself as seasoned leader


HAMILTON — Ontario’s Liberal premier travelled to the heart of her NDP rival’s riding on Wednesday to portray herself as the only seasoned stateswoman in the province’s election campaign capable of rising above the ideological fray.

At a stop in Hamilton outside a Stelco steel plant, Kathleen Wynne attacked both New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath and the Progressive Conservatives’ Doug Ford as unyielding ideologues without the experience to fend off the threat of American steel tariffs.

“On the one end of the spectrum, you have Doug Ford — he’s expressed his admiration for (U.S. President) Donald Trump, despite the chaos, the uncertainty that the Trump administration has caused Ontario,” Wynne said. “On the other extreme, you have the NDP, who have historically campaigned against free-trade agreements — I would suggest a rigid and impractical position.”

The United States has exempted Canadian steel and aluminum from new tariffs on an interim basis. The exemption is due to expire Friday.

While the federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done much of the heavy lifting to protect the industry in Canada, Wynne played up her own efforts.

“Over the past year, I have met with 37 governors, I have met with senators, I’ve met with congresspeople, I’ve met with senior members of the U.S. administration, all in an attempt to make it clear what our integrated relationship means to workers on both sides of the border,” said Wynne, who has been trailing behind her rivals in recent polls.

“We were assertive, we were steadfast in our effort to make Ontario’s case to those decision makers. That threat of U.S. protectionism is not going to scare us off.”

Wynne said Ontario has developed one of the strongest economies in North America under a Liberal government that worked with employees, business leaders, and political leaders on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Voters have a choice in next week’s vote between her and her two inexperienced rivals, she said.

“They’re going to be choosing a person to lead them who will be in some very tricky, very delicate negotiations with U.S. officials,” Wynne said. “That’s the reality of the role premier (and) we cannot let ideology get in our way.”

For her part, Horwath shrugged off Liberal accusations Wednesday that her NDP is too beholden to union interests. She rejected a Liberal allegation that her party has a questionable financial relationship with a group of unions known as Cornerstone — a for-profit group founded by eight unions. The Liberals allege the group has been financially supporting the New Democrat election campaign and operations.

The NDP has no financial relationship with Cornerstone, Horwath said at a campaign stop in Windsor, Ont. The governing Liberals, she added, have consistently made deals with special interest groups throughout their years in office.

“This is a government, a party, that spent its time cutting deals with various interest groups to try to help them politically. So, I completely dismiss any accusations from Ms. Wynne on that file,” Horwath said.

Meanwhile, the Tories, who have repeatedly come under fire for not yet releasing a costed platform, quietly updated their website Wednesday to show a more detailed compilation of the campaign promises they have made so far.

Ford has pledged to present a costed plan before the election but has not specified when he will do so. His spokeswoman, Melissa Lantsman, would not say whether the updated plan posted by the party constitutes its platform.

“The plan for the people of Ontario is all there – as we’ve said all along we’ve been making announcements on our plan everyday, this is the compilation of all of them in one place,” she said in an email.

Ontario heads to the polls June 7.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press