There's nothing like the spectre of an election (and potential loss of precious seats in the House of Commons) to get the federal Liberals off their butts in Toronto.
Paul Martin and Co. aren't taking any chances on the parliamentary numbers adding up to get their budget passed. The Liberals are getting ready to go to the polls regardless.
The fact that they finally took measures this week to ensure that the Toronto Port Authority will never build a bridge from Bathurst Quay to the Island Airport is evidence aplenty.
In making the announcement late Tuesday, May 3, Joe Volpe, the Eglinton-Lawrence MP with Cabinet responsibility for Toronto, made it sound like the move to kill the bridge had been in the offing all along.
According to Volpe, sounding the death knell (which will see the troublesome Port Authority get $35 million to pay off airline magnate Robert Deluce) "is consistent with the government of Canada's goal of responding to local interests."
So what took so long? Martin promised to honour city council's withdrawal of support for the fixed link following David Miller's election as mayor in November 2003. Maybe Volpe can't count, but that was 18 months ago.
The Grits reiterated that pledge during last year's federal election when it looked like Trinity-Spadina MP Tony Ianno might lose his downtown seat to Councillor Olivia Chow. But after Ianno eked out a 1,000-vote win, the Grits suddenly fell silent on the matter.
"The bridge to PEI was announced 14 times before it was built," one local Liberal insider said this week to explain the federal government's "why do today what you can announce again tomorrow" approach.
Neat how everything just managed to work out now, before Chow has decided if she wants to try for third-time-lucky against the resilient Ianno.
Invisible Tony, as his detractors like to call him, has been all over town in the past couple of weeks, inviting Environment Minister Stéphane Dion to the riding and showing up for photo ops with Volpe and other local Liberal MPs.
Perhaps they're hoping that handing out federal money in T.O. will save them from NDP challengers, as anti-Tory fear-mongering did less than 12 months ago.
Transport Minister Jean Lapierre was quick to single out Ianno's contribution to talks that led to the killing of the bridge.
It's all become a bit farcical.
"Should I thank local caucus members for their hard work, or do you want to do it?" Housing Minister Joe Fontana whispered to Volpe when the duo showed up at Main Square off Danforth last Friday, April 29, to announce $602-million worth of affordable housing funding.
Mayor David Miller was also on hand at Main Square to sing the praises of partnerships between the city and the Liberal regimes in Ottawa and Queen's Park.
He'd done the same thing earlier in the week when Volpe, with Grit MPs in tow, descended on Cherry Beach to announce the start of work on a $10.5-million waterfront beautification project there. Another $10 million was added to the tally for improvements to Lake Ontario Park in the south port lands.
The money the Grits are throwing at T.O., however, is a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.5 billion that Ottawa, Queen's Park and the city pledged five years ago when waterfront revitalization was a cornerstone of the failed bid for the 2008 Olympics.
Only a paltry $65 million has flowed out of the kitty and into the account of the government-appointed Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp.
"The overall tone has changed significantly," the mayor noted. It seems Volpe, who had previously expressed considerable opposition to politicians sitting on the TWRC board, has eased up on that position, too. The mayor says now, "I think we'll be able to find a way to get me on the board."
In the meantime, there'll no doubt be a few more handouts - like a decree, perhaps, that no bridge to the Island Airport means no expansion of airport services there. We'll see how many Grits get behind that one.