On his radio show last weekend, Rob Ford took time to freelance as a policy advisor for the Ontario NDP. Ford’s advice to party leader Andrea Horwath: “Just say ‘no’” to the minority Liberal government’s budget. “The taxpayers want an election.”
One such taxpayer was right beside the mayor—his brother Doug, who intends to run as a candidate for the provincial Conservatives. “There is a great team waiting to jump in office and straighten this ship around,” said Doug. Clearly, he was referring to his fellow Tim Hudak–led candidates. So Horwath may want to question whether the Ford brothers really have her best interests in mind.
But Doug’s immediate job prospects aren’t the only reason City Hall is obsessed with a provincial election right now. So much of current city business hinges on provincial legislation that’s either recently been passed or is expected to soon. There’s transit, of course: the LRT lines Metrolinx is getting ready to build; the all-day, two-way GO Train service into the 905 that the province just announced; the upcoming decision on new revenue tools for building more transit. There’s the downtown Toronto casino that the provincial lottery corporation has been pushing hard for, even as Premier Kathleen Wynne has thrown cold water on its more outlandish promises. And there’s everything else—from lowering sky-high car insurance rates to inching up the shamefully tiny amounts we parcel out for welfare.
The mayor disagrees with Wynne on most of those issues, so he’s eager to see Hudak take the reins and, as former Conservative Premier Mike Harris did a generation ago, lay waste to many of Toronto’s city-building works in progress. Naturally, then, he’d urge Horwath to defeat the budget.
Horwath’s own supporters at City Hall aren’t necessarily offering the same advice. Much of the progressive coalition of lefty and centrist councillors—who form the mayor’s main opposition—are convinced that the best chance Toronto has to succeed in the immediate future is to keep Wynne in office. For them, even many NDP members, staying united and consistent on a set of issues—transit building, securing transit funding, and preventing a downtown casino—is the most important job at hand, more so than jockeying for partisan advantage. This is especially true when polls show Hudak could walk away with an election.
It’s an interesting and delicate stage in a cycle that began with Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. Before him, the province contributed generously to funding Toronto’s priorities. Harris eliminated operating funding for transit and slashed provincial money for countless municipal programs. He even went so far as to fill in an under-construction subway line, and forced the amalgamation of the old Metro municipalities into one city, leading to more than a decade of chaos at City Hall.
Toronto has spent most of its time trying to dig itself out of those ruins, and begging the province to once again help fund vital services, especially transit. Finally, in recent years, the province has accepted the challenge, yet the possibility of a return to chaos looms over everything.
But not all of Ford’s opponents seem to see the stakes the same way. Karen Stintz and a band of councillors spent the early part of this week trying to revive the Scarborough subway debate, suggesting an LRT line the province has committed to building should be a subway instead.
Those councillors involved, I think, want to be seen by voters supporting subways in Scarborough, even as they expect their fellow councillors and the Premier to kill the notion dead. Whether intentionally or not, that plays right into Hudak’s hands: Transit building becomes a live issue for voters in Scarborough again just in time for him to campaign on it. And if he won, reopening the Metrolinx master plan to negotiate that subway would give him the opportunity to kill the other LRT projects we’ve already committed to, putting everything up in the air. Again.
At this particular moment, a lot of questions about Toronto’s future hang on the precarious situation at Queen’s Park—and for now Andrea Horwath gets to decide how that situation is resolved. As usual, the solution isn’t as simple as the mayor would have us—and her—believe.