Toronto Mayor Rob Ford will meet with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Wednesday morning, where he will seek the province’s help in addressing the city’s financial woes.
Mr. Ford is coming cap in hand to Queen’s Park, just three weeks before the official launch of the provincial election campaign and amid a new awkward tone in his relations with Mr. McGuinty.
The right-leaning Mayor himself is not openly campaigning for Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to win on Oct. 6. But at a Tory barbecue earlier this month at the Etobicoke home of Mr. Ford’s mother, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was caught on camera effectively endorsing Mr. McGuinty’s chief rival.
Mr. Harper, apparently unaware that his remarks would end up posted on YouTube, said he hoped the Conservatives “complete the hat trick” and win provincially as well.
Mr. McGuinty has had an up-and-down relationship with Mr. Harper. But the Premier cannot afford to alienate the mayor of Canada’s largest city when he is seeking a third term. The governing Liberals are trailing in public-opinion polls behind the Progressive Conservatives, although the gap is narrowing.
An official in Mr. McGuinty’s office declined to comment on the nature of the “asks” from Mr. Ford. The mayor’s office was equally tight-lipped.
Provincial grants and subsidies currently make up 20 per cent of city revenues. And the meeting comes at a time when the municipal books are under enormous scrutiny, with Mr. Ford looking to close a $774-million budget gap.
The heads of all city departments have been asked to cut spending by 10 per cent and Mr. Ford has warned that job cuts could be forthcoming.
For several months, consultants from KPMG have been rooting through the city’s finances to separate those expenses that are provincially mandated from those that appear extraneous.
Those efforts have highlighted the extent to which provincial legislation handcuffs the city when it tries to trim its budget, something Mr. Ford may attempt to alleviate in his meeting with the Premier.
In particular, the mayor may push the province to help fund 2,000 subsidized daycare spaces the city says it can no longer afford.
Mr. Ford is also running into difficulty in his efforts to find private financing for a Sheppard subway extension.
The mayor’s office refused to confirm any specific requests it may make of the province.
“We’ve had a good working relationship with the provincial government,” said Adrienne Batra. “They are aware of the financial challenges the city is facing right now and those will be part of the discussions.”
Thus far, Mr. McGuinty has been careful not to go up against a leader who sailed to victory in the 2010 municipal election by promising to cut waste and stop the gravy train.
The same cannot be said about Mr. Ford. Last March, he put the provincial government on notice that he is ready to play hardball if it did not agree to his request for $150-million this year. In a talk-radio interview, Mr. Ford threatened to ensure the Liberals don’t get back into office following the election.
“If I need help from the province then I’ll ask for their help,” Mr. Ford told Newstalk 1010. “And if they choose not to help us, then I have no other choice but to get out, as I call it, ‘Ford nation’ and make sure they’re not re-elected in the next election.”
Mr. Ford did not get the $150-million. But since then, Mr. McGuinty appears to have gone out of his way to keep Mr. Ford happy. The Ontario government gave the green light last March to the mayor’s $12.4-billion bid to completely bury a crosstown light-rail line, helping him fulfill a key campaign pledge to kill Transit City.
The province will pay for the line under Eglinton Avenue, along with the cost of replacing the deteriorating Scarborough Rapid Transit elevated train with LRT technology. The province’s $8.2-billion share of the cost does not represent any new spending, but rather money that had been previously committed for Transit City.
The Ontario government also fast-tracked legislation to ban transit workers in Toronto from striking. The government introduced the legislation last February at the request of Mr. Ford and after city council voted 28-17 in favour of making future strike action by Toronto Transit Commission workers illegal.