Mayor David Miller must be starting to sweat bullets. His campaign to get Toronto a "new deal" with Ottawa is increasingly threatened by the spectre of a federal election this spring.
In fact, large beads of perspiration were already visible on the chief magistrate's stiff upper lip this week when he told the Scarborough chamber of commerce about the "hundreds of millions of dollars" in new revenue the city must receive from the feds and Queen's Park if it's ever going to "succeed and thrive."
"Each and every year, the provincial and federal governments collect hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenues from Toronto's economy," Miller told a noon-hour luncheon at the Crown Plaza Don Valley Hotel on Tuesday, April 19. "This new revenue comes from growth in income and sales taxes, but none of that growth comes back to the city directly."
And he didn't hesitate to ask his audience of about 200 business types to help the cause by passing on the word to their federal and provincial members of parliament.
"I need you to champion Toronto, to understand the broader vision, to embrace the long-term goals of investment in the public realm," Miller said.
But the advocacy the mayor tried to enlist is jeopardized by the growing likelihood that Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal government could be defeated next month.
Almost two years' worth of intergovernmental negotiations that won Toronto and other municipalities a $7-billion rebate on GST payments over 10 years and an initial $5-billion share of the federal gas tax may be completely for naught.
As federal Infrastructure Minister and Toronto MP John Godfrey put it during a conference call with journalists Tuesday: "I can be quite crisp on the subject of 'no passing of the budget, no flowing of the money. '"
In other words, Miller and all the other mayors who've been clamouring for federal cash will be back at square one. Maybe even further back than that.
At a recent policy conference in Montreal, the Tories "had an opportunity to address [their lack of city policy], and I was very disappointed that they didn't," the mayor adds. "If anything, their policies put cities in a worse position."
In other words, Toronto voters in their right mind shouldn't even consider voting Tory federally if they're remotely interested in the long-term well-being of their city.
"We won't succeed without massive investment in the public realm," Miller says. Where the Liberals are concerned, push is going to come to shove sooner or later, and Miller is clearly worried.
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Anyone who thought having a labour-friendly mayor at City Hall would somehow dampen union rhetoric during contract negotiations will be sorely disappointed. Oh, sure, "the tone is different" than it was during Mel Lastman's reign. "However," according to Brian Cochrane, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 416, "whether you're smiling at me and sticking a shiv up my ass or you're scowling at me, it doesn't matter. You're still sticking a shiv up my ass."
This is Cochrane's way of saying that negotiations are not going well for his local, which represents more than 10,000 outside workers, including garbage collectors and parks staff.
"They have to consult with everybody in the entire goddamn city to make a decision."
Cochrane figures his members will likely go right down to the wire. Warmer weather tends to work in his local's favour, though Cochrane denies it's the case. Like it did during the summer garbage strike of 2002.