Premiers of Quebec and Ontario warn others not to write off Central Canada

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – It’s time to “put Central Canada back at the centre of the map,” Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Friday as he vowed to work with Ontario to restore the influence of the country’s two most populous provinces.

“This is what my message is all about,” Couillard told the Ontario Economic Summit in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“Quebec is back at the table, not on the sidelines but sitting at the table, which means sometimes that it will voice strongly its opinion, but as a partner in the country trying to contribute.”

Speaking entirely in English, Couillard noted former Ontario premier David Peterson was in the audience, and said it reminded him of the glory days of Ontario-Quebec relations in the 1980s.

“I do remember the time when premiers Peterson and Robert Bourassa had such a close bond and acted as a block of influence in our great country, and this is exactly what (Ontario premier) Kathleen (Wynne) and myself wish to achieve,” he said.

Wynne said she was very pleased to hear Quebec talking about restoring the historic partnership with Ontario.

“Being more than 50 per cent of the GDP of this country and more than 60 per cent of federal revenues, it’s hard to argue that Ontario and Quebec are not critical to the health of the country,” she said. “And so there is no percentage for anyone within Ontario and Quebec to write us off.”

The two provinces have many challenges in common, added Couillard, pointing to a slower-than-expected recovery, declining manufacturing and forestry sectors and desires to further develop their far north regions.

There will be “significant action” taken at a joint meeting of the Ontario and Quebec cabinets Nov. 21 in Toronto, promised Couillard, who led the Liberals to a majority victory in the Quebec election in April.

“Not only a photo-op, but actually real work being done between our ministers and our teams in order to make the economy grow faster and in a more sustainable way,” he said.

Wynne, who led her Liberal party to a majority in June, said that having Ontario and Quebec rebuild their close connection will be vital to the economic prosperity of both provinces and of the entire country.

“For this period in our history, I think this is a critical moment,” she said.

“At that cabinet meeting, my hope is we’ll be able to demonstrate to both our provinces and to the country that we can move ahead, that we can strengthen the relationship.”

Both premiers were scheduled to leave on a trade mission to China following their joint question-and-answer session at the Ontario Economic Summit.

“It’s very important for central Canada that we expand our export markets, and that is what the trip to China is about,” said Wynne.

(By Keith Leslie in Toronto)

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