Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams has started referring to the prime minister as "Steve," a nickname used by the U.S. president. But it's hardly a sign of friendship.

"Well, his buddy George Bush calls him Steve. I can call him Steve, although I'm not a buddy of his," Williams told reporters Friday.

The prime minister mocked Williams during question period for unveiling a budget heavy on spending, while still arguing the province has lost out on the new equalization formula.

"I see that the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has tabled a budget today that involves record spending, paying down the debt and decreasing taxes," said Harper.

Williams fired back that Newfoundland still carries the highest debt load of any other province, and Harper's comment was disrespectful.

"For him to come out and conduct himself in the way he does, Steve doesn't deserve any better than that," he said.

But he didn't stop there, using the nickname several more times:

  • "You know, it's disgusting that Steve wants to treat us like that. It really is."
  • "From a fiscal perspective, we can say to Steve and company, that we don't need your guarantee on the Lower Churchill (a hydroelectric project in Labrador). Thanks very much for promising it to us, but your promises aren't worth the paper they're written on."
  • "So when they make a written promise, and they make a commitment, and it comes from the leader of a party who eventually becomes the prime minister of the country, then I expect Steve to live up to that commitment."

President George Bush called the prime minister "Steve" last year, when the two leaders met in Washington.

With a report from NTV's Michael Connors