Ontario's government has slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's project aimed at studying ways to reduce wait times for children's surgery, saying Ottawa should have consulted the provinces.

Harper said the $2.6-million project, to be run by a national network of 16 pediatric hospitals, will monitor wait times and eventually "lead to a surgical wait time guarantee for all children."

"As a parent, I understand that there's nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing a child suffer," said Harper at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.

"Despite the best efforts of our medical professionals, many children do not receive the care they need in a timely manner... Our children deserve better."

But Ottawa did not consult with any provincial-level officials, who are responsible for managing existing wait time programs.

"I think this is a great photo-op," Marie Bountrogianni, Ontario's Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, told CTV Newsnet. "But if they were really serious about reducing wait times, they would talk to the provinces."

She also told The Canadian Press that $2.6 million is only half of what Paul Martin had offered as prime minister for a similar plan.

"Starting in 2008, they will reduce the wait-times strategy money that was previously negotiated by 50 per cent for the whole country," she said.

"This $2.6 million is just a photo-op. Health Minister (Tony) Clement and the prime minister should really be ashamed of themselves."

Provinces, not Ottawa, currently look after wait time reduction programs in five key areas that include joint replacements, heart or cataract operations and diagnostic imaging.

Harper said that the 15-month pilot project "will assemble accurate data about six key surgical areas."

The six areas Harper mentioned are: cardiac and cancer care, neurology, sight, spinal deformity and dental treatment requiring anesthesia.

The next stage of the project will be to develop a treatment plan for children facing unacceptable wait times, said Harper.

The announcement marks the fourth patient wait time pilot project initiated by the Harper government since they took office.

Harper said Clement will be hosting a conference with provincial and territorial colleagues in February to discuss progress.

On Wednesday, Clement said that the government was approached by pediatricians about the project, not by the provinces.

"This was created by the pediatricians, by the actual surgeons themselves and the hospitals," he told CTV Newsnet.

"Of course the provinces are more than welcome to join us."

Harper also rebuffed criticism that the provinces should have been involved, sayind the study was actually put together by the 16 pediatric hospitals themselves.

"This is really a project of research and information creating," said Harper. "The provinces have encouraged in the past our involvement in this particular area."