She's been dead for almost 35 years, but that didn't stop Mayor David Miller from copping some good advice from the late, great chanteuse Janis Joplin. "Get it while you can, baby. Get it while you can."
Miller certainly made it sound like he was on the getting end when he responded to the provincial budget dropped on the Legislature this week by Liberal Finance Minister Greg Sorbara.
"It's a good second step," the mayor said of Toronto finally getting half the 2-cents per litre of gas tax that Premier Dalton McGuinty promised when cruising the campaign trail last fall. Heck, if we ever get the full amount pledged by the then opposition leader in support of our beleaguered public transit system, it could mean an extra $150 million to keep subway tracks and streetcar lines in good repair up to the year 2007.
But it's a big if when you consider how much of what McGuinty and the Grits promised has already been thrown aside and trampled underfoot.
It's not often that you get a government's chief financial officer using a budget speech to confess that much of his financial plan is "inconsistent with our election pledges." Sorbara managed to repeat such an admission at least a half-dozen times during his hour-long soliloquy on "prudent management of the public purse."
"This is something we promised not to do, but it's the right thing to do," he said after reintroducing health-care premiums as a way to help wrestle the $6.2-billion provincial deficit down to $2.2 billion by next year.
Who's to say Sorbara won't be saying the same sort of thing about the gas tax by this time next year? Or that the Liberal bean-counters won't come up with a clever way to reduce the flow of cash to the TCC - say a funding formula based on population rather than transit ridership? Given the Grits' sorry record on kept promises in the first seven months of their mandate, anything could happen.
But Miller was more than willing to see his gas tax glass as half full instead of half empty and to welcome the province's re-assumption of a greater share of spending on public health programs.
"The budget continues the process of putting the city on a better financial footing," the mayor said. "There are some subtle items in the budget that indicate a level of respect for cities."
"Get it while you can, baby. Get it while you can." Barely six months into their mandate at Queen's Park, the McGuinty Liberals are increasing being referred to as "one-term wonders" who've lost the moral authority to govern. Things like the reintroduction of health-care premiums, hefty hikes in sin taxes and the loss of OHIP coverage for eye exams, physiotherapy and chiropractic services might be seen by many as a necessary response to the Conservative deficit legacy left to Ontarians by Mike Harris and Ernie Eves. But the simple fact that McGuinty and Co. said they'd never do such things if the electorate chose them to govern makes the moves intolerable to many voters who believed them.
Some political observers are already comparing the shell-shocked Daltonites to the NDP government that Bob Rae led into the Legislature back in September 1990. The socialists rode high in the public opinion polls for about nine months. And then Pink Floyd Laughren, their finance minister, delivered his first budget, complete with a $9.7-billion deficit.
It was downhill all the way from there to the Social Contract. The NDP never recovered from that first financial statement, and the Rae government was easily ousted in the Common Sense Revolution four years later.
Have the Liberals set themselves up for a similar fate? That's not a question Miller is about to answer.
"For years we've had [provincial] budgets that were taking money out of Toronto," he said in the aftermath of Sorbara's address "This one's starting to put money back in."
The mayor can afford to be generous in his remarks. After all, the presence of former mayoral foe-turned-friend John Tory in the race to become the next leader of the Ontario Conservative party means Toronto issues will get considerable attention beyond the government benches in the months, and perhaps years, ahead.
Tory's budget-day presence in the Legislature's public gallery did not go unnoticed and had more than a few people speculating about what might lie ahead in Toronto's relationship with Queen's Park. In the meantime, Miller should keep listening to Janis.
"Get it while you can, baby. Get it while you can."