Intergovernmental affairs are going to get a lot more interesting in and around Toronto in the next while. The selection of perennial backroom boy John Tory as the new leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative party all but guarantees this heightened level of political intrigue.
In fact, the machinations started even before the former Rogers Cable guy eked out a closer-than-expected second-ballot victory over Jim Flaherty, Harris-era PC cabinet heavy-weight, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel last Saturday night, September 18.
The previous evening, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty had put in an appearance at the more upscale InterContinental guesthouse on Bloor West, where Mayor David Miller was having dinner with 10 of his chief magisterial colleagues from Canada's so-called "hub" cities.
What better time and place for McGuinty to show up and unveil his embattled government's plan to deliver a new City Of Toronto Act that will free the country's most populous municipality from "legislative and fiscal straitjackets."
"It's a recognition of its maturity, its size and, frankly, its tremendous influence in the Ontario economy and the Canadian economy," the premier said of the long-awaited initiative, which - if negotiations proceed as proposed - will finally give Toronto councils the governmental powers and autonomy they've been denied for the past 137 years.
Some people will insist it was a simple coincidence that McGuinty made his "new deal for Toronto" announcement on the eve of the latest provincial Conservative leadership convention. But some Grit insiders contend "it was totally timed that way" in order to blunt Tory's anticipated convention-night assault on the government for dragging its feet on an issue central to the party's campaign for seats in the Ontario capital 12 months ago.
It's been a long time since the Conservatives had a leader who called Toronto home, and longer still since it was led by someone with the kind of community profile Tory built upon by finishing a close second to Miller in last fall's mayoralty battle. Neither should anyone discount the fact that the man who masterminded Tory's successful quest for the PeeCee mantle, John Laschinger, is the same guy who played the top management role for New Democrat Miller in his campaign for the big office on the second floor of City Hall.
"I've got to give credit to the premier, who has stood up and fought for Toronto all year," Miller said this week after McGuinty delivered his "incredibly significant" promise to revise legislation related to the city's place in the provincial universe. "But to have a leader of the Official Opposition who's a Torontonian - and who isn't from the Mike Harris school that literally took $500 million in funding out of the city every year - is huge."
Indeed, the mayor is convinced that "if anything, this new political dynamic will strengthen the premier's resolve" to give Toronto the tools it needs to run the city.
Speaking of strengthened resolve, it just so happened that the mayor spent Monday morning up at the TTC's Davisville bus barns helping transit commission chair Howard Moscoe accept a $70-million cheque from Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar and Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen. The money was a Liberal government delivery on a bailout promised back in the spring to help the TTC avoid a 10-cent fare hike this year.
"We couldn't be happier," Moscoe said of the promise finally kept.
With John Tory pledging to restore his party's fortunes in Toronto come the provincial election in October 2007, putting maximum pressure on the Libs, the TTC chair's hopes may actually have a chance of being realized.
And he should get some further indication next month when the province announces how it's going to allocate the 1-cent-a-litre in gas tax revenues it also promised municipalities as a means of funding public transit. Toronto wants the payments divvied up based on a formula that would make transit ridership the main criterion.
Since 61 per cent of Torontonians use the TTC, Toronto would net about $95 million if this payment method is used. But other municipalities are pushing for a per-capita-based formula to determine gas tax payments. With just 21 per cent of the province's population, the city would get only $32 million.
How this debate ends when the Liberals make their budgetary decision should give the city a better sense of how strong the premier's resolve to improve Toronto's lot really is. And you can be sure the government's position will provide John Tory with one of his first opportunities to let Torontonians know what he really learned from his municipal election experience last year.