Hold on to your hats, folks. The year ahead in Toronto politics promises to be one humdinger of a topsy-turvy time, if the latest prognostications from my friends at the League of Clairvoyants and Bookmaking Operators (LCBO) are to be believed. Oh, I know. Their record for 2004 wasn't all that great. John Nunziata isn't managing a shelter for the homeless. Robert Deluce hasn't opened a model airplane store on Queens Quay. And, no, councillor Giorgio Mammoliti isn't living in a tent somewhere in the Somali desert.
But Barbara Hall did end up with a nice job courtesy of her Liberal friends at Queen's Park. Pinko Jack Layton did whack Dennis Mills in the federal battle for Toronto-Danforth. And, as predicted, Mayor David Miller's right-wing opponents at City Hall have morphed into comic book characters. So how can it hurt to turn one's gaze toward the LCBO's fancy crystal decanter (750 ml, $32.95) for a furtive glance at what might be in store for 2005. Hey, I'm having visions already.
· To help with its budget shortfall, the province will offer the city a bounty on every bottle collected in its blue box recycling program. So lucrative will the program become that squads of finance department employees will start combing ravines and alleys for empties to justify their demands for wage increases.
Clauses will be written into all future civic labour contracts to cover "dispensation of bottle drive proceeds." Premier Dalton McGuinty will be heard to ask: "What in the hell are we going to do with all these damned bottles?"
As part of the New City Of Toronto Act, legislation will be passed requiring beverage makers to reimburse the government and reuse their containers. The mayor will call the deposit-return pilot program "a step in the right direction." But he'll insist the province must do more to put Toronto on a sustainable financial footing.
· Author Denise Bellamy's novel Sex, Lies And Hard Drives - The MFP Story will become an overnight national best-seller and turn the former provincial court judge into a celebrity. She'll insist that a portion of her royalties be paid to the city treasurer until the $15-million cost of her probe into Toronto's computer-leasing scandal is repaid.
The city clerk's office will open a publishing secretariat so it can cash in the next time the down-and-dirty doings around 100 Queen West end up in some tome the taxpayers are paying for. Bellamy will be offered first right of refusal on any future projects.
· Michael Del Grande, the councillor for Ward 39 (Scarborough-Agincourt), will that demand city staff explain plummeting real estate values in his corner of suburbia. A report by the economic development department will advise that things began to go downhill when somebody started erecting signs in the neighbourhood indicating that certain abodes had been involved in the illegal cultivation of marijuana. Grow houses, they're called.
Anyway, the report will mention the crusader who made such a big deal about these botanical ventures that prospective homebuyers and renters started avoiding the community altogether: Michael Del Grande. Voters will not be impressed.
· While we're on the subject of dope, residents of Ward 37 (Scarborough Centre) will start asking questions about how their councillor, Michael Thompson, can rail against grow houses and then turn around and promote a hurricane relief fundraiser sponsored by the Toronto Maple Reefers Parrothead Club. Maple-flavoured reefers? Strange indeed. Like Toronto's Own beer, it must be some fancy breakfast weed only available in these parts.
· Here's a sooth you shouldn't be too dismissive of. Unconvinced that anyone among the crowd of conservative councillors at City Hall has the jam to beat Miller in the 2006 municipal election, Toronto's right-wing power brokers will move outside of regular political circles to find their mayoral champion. Meet Michael "Pinball" Clemons. "Pinball for mayor" signs were already in evidence last month when coach Clemons and his Grey Cup-winning Argonauts turned up in Nathan Phillips Square to celebrate. And kingmaker Paul Godfrey had been busy talking up the football phenom's political potential to the media.
Even an unsuccessful run for mayor could serve as a good warm-up for Clemons getting into provincial politics a year later. Just ask Ontario Conservative leader John Tory. He'd love to have Clemons on board come the next provincial vote in 2007.
· And maybe a few current Toronto councillors will join Tory, too. Expect to hear names like Case Ootes, Denzil Minnan-Wong, David Shiner, Gloria Lindsay-Luby, David Soknacki, Jane Pitfield and Doug Holyday mentioned with increasing frequency in the months ahead as local politicians considering a move to the Tory team. The real serious ones will start to behave real seriously in the coming year. Watch closely.
· Robert Deluce, who started the year with a $500-million lawsuit against the city for killing a bridge to Toronto Island Airport, and ended it suggesting council should let him operate an airline there without the fixed link, will offer to go away for good if the city pays the legal fees he's run up making a nuisance of himself down on the waterfront. Mayor Miller will offer Deluce the toonie he said it would cost taxpayers to reverse the previous council's approval of a steel span across the Western Gap.
And the paper airline magnate will finally open the hobby shop predicted in this space 12 months ago.
Have a happy new year.