The most commonly asked question around City Hall right now as the clock ticks down on the Tory reign of terror is: will things get better for poor beleaguered T.O. when the Libs take power? The most frequent response to the query is, of course there'll be some improvement. Hell, things couldn't get any worse than they've been these past seven years. If nothing else, the confrontational atmosphere that has pervaded the city's relationship with the province should start to dissipate almost immediately. But there is further cause for optimism beyond this seemingly positive mood swing. If, as is widely expected, PeeCee MPPs are sent packing in huge numbers, it's conceivable the new Liberal government's Toronto caucus could has as many as 20 members. That's double the clout Tory MPPs had in the pink palace.
And this anticipated development leads to the next question: what level of representation will T.O. have in the cabinet of Premier Dalton McGuinty?
The names of six potential MPPs tend to come up with some regularity in discussions with both party insiders and seasoned observers of provincial politics. Gerry Phillips, the 16-year veteran MPP for Scarborough Agincourt, was minister of labour in David Peterson's Liberal government. He's now touted as Ontario's next finance minister. That is if he wants the job after taking a good look at the budget books after the Tories have gone. Regardless, Phillips will be a key player in a McGuinty cabinet. Deputy premier is also a role he might assume.
Mike Colle, the MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence, was a Metro councillor before entering provincial politics in 1995. A former chair of the TTC, he'd be a good fit as minister of transportation. But he'll have to get treatment for the agoraphobia that overcame him during a recent visit to the St. Lawrence Market with McGuinty
Michael Bryant was elected MPP for St. Paul's in 1999. A Harvard-educated lawyer, he's a prime candidate for attorney general. The health and energy portfolios are also possibilities.
Gerard Kennedy, the Parkdale-High Park MPP, is considered a good bet for cabinet, but may not get the education portfolio he covets. A former executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, he's more likely to end up as minister of community and social services. First elected in a 1996 by-election, he lost the Liberal leadership to McGuinty that same year.
George Smitherman, Toronto Centre-Rosedale MPP since 1999, figures to get a cabinet appointment. But nobody is quite sure where the often less- than-tactful political scrapper will fit in. He's owed big time for taking on the role of lead Liberal attack dog during the election campaign. Whatever his responsibilities turn out to be, the one-time chief of staff to former Toronto mayor (and now mayoral candidate) Barbara Hall is likely to have considerable say on city issues.
David Caplan, the MPP for Don Valley East since winning a 1997 by-election there, has been the party's critic for municipal affairs and housing. That portfolio seems to be intended for former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson if he's successful in his quest to represent Ottawa West-Nepean at Queen's Park. But considerable thought is being given to turning housing into a separate ministry and, if that happens, Caplan could land there.
It seems there's little chance any of the Liberal newcomers expected to arrive at Queen's Park will end up in cabinet immediately. The one possible exception is Mary Anne Chambers, the candidate who's battling Tory Steve Gilchrist for Scarborough East. The Jamaican-born Chambers was considered a long shot to win what was thought to be the safest Tory riding in Toronto when the election was called back on September 2. But if the Grit sweep materializes, the former senior vice-president of Scotiabank could be vaulted into cabinet. Culture and tourism is a possibility.
Even if the city's presence in cabinet is limited to six or seven members, the Liberal government can't help but be more Toronto-friendly than the Tory administration it is expected to oust. Rest assured, Torontonians expect much, much more from a government they played a major role in electing.