The latest flap between City Hall and Queen's Park over provincial funding for the TTC couldn't have come at a better time for one Brad Duguid.
The Scarborough Centre MPP is currently picking up a few extra bucks toiling as parliamentary assistant to Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen. Liberal sources insist Duguid has designs on getting himself a cabinet post before the Grits go to the polls again three years from now.
And he clearly sees the role of nemesis to Mayor David Miller as the best route to get there.
A few months ago, the overtly ambitious Liberal backbencher was assigned the role of "attack dog" to beat back Miller for publicly voicing objections to a funding protocol the Grits had secretly negotiated with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. The Grits were less than thrilled with Miller's reaction.
As it happens, Duguid was never a fan of Miller's when the two served as ward reps on council during Mel Lastman's tumultuous six years as megacity mayor. A shameless self-promoter, the status-seeking Scarberian did whatever it took to get on Lastman's good side and was consistently rewarded with committee chair appointments.
It was hardly surprising, then, that when Miller decided to take a run at the city's top political job, Duguid lined up behind John Tory, the establishment candidate.
Unfortunately, when Duguid last worked himself into a foaming-at-the-mouth frenzy six weeks ago over the mayor's criticism of Liberal policy, McGuinty brought him to heel by announcing his government's plan to introduce a new City Of Toronto Act that will recognize Hogtown's size and influence in the province.
But now City Hall and Queen's Park are at loggerheads again. This time Miller's lamenting that the $91 million the TTC will receive in 2005 as its share of provincial gas tax revenues will actually net the city less money than it got last year, because of a $62-million payment Toronto is expected to make to GO Transit.
Miller had barely uttered the words "the city is worse off today than it was yesterday" last Friday afternoon than McGuinty's communications staff were prowling the City Hall press gallery handing out media kits defending the transit initiative. A "Dear councillor" letter from Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, Transport Minister Harinder Takhar and Gerretsen was also distributed at 100 Queen West.
On Saturday, Duguid followed up with his own theatrics, staging a press conference at the Wellesley subway station to rail against an ungrateful Miller for allegedly misrepresenting the situation.
"I've been at Toronto city council for almost a decade, and if we'd had this level of support a few years back we would be jumping for joy," the local MPP said.
True enough. But the money hasn't been there, and every year the transit system's state of repair sinks into a deeper budgetary hole. That's what Miller, budget chief David Soknacki and TTC chair Howard Moscoe have been saying about the city's transit predicament.
In the meantime, Liberal sources suggest that Duguid already has his eye on a major promotion - the health portfolio - as he waits for another opportunity to savage Miller. ***
Visitors to the premier's office must be starting to wonder if they've somehow been transported back to the Lastman years at Toronto City Hall. First, Jim Warren, who spent almost five years trying to keep the mercurial former mayor on message before defecting to Magna Corp., was brought in as executive director of communications for the Liberal boss. Now Anthony Rossi, an executive assistant to Lastman right up until the end of his second term, has been recruited to work the cities file for the premier.
These are the folks who couldn't control mouthy Mel. The Liberal boss can only hope his City Hall imports do a better job polishing his image than they did for Mel's.