Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Toronto mayor getting on Premier's nerves over transit funding Add to ...

David Miller is getting on the nerves of Dalton McGuinty's Liberals.

That, clearly, is the Toronto mayor's objective. But less clear is what exactly Mr. Miller hopes it will achieve.

Of all the words political operatives throw around to describe their adversaries, "irrational" usually isn't one of them. But it's a word being used with alarming frequency, and some justification, to describe Mr. Miller's recent behaviour.

His fury over the fate of Transit City - in particular the plan to postpone four new public transit lines in Toronto - is understandable.

The mayor, who will not seek re-election in the city's October election, is in the unenviable position of having to rely on a different level of government to fund his legacy project. So when Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan casually and rather coldly announced in his March 25 budget that the province would delay nearly half of the $9-billion it had allotted for Transit City, Mr. Miller took it very personally.

The surprise is that, six weeks after the fact, he shows no signs of getting over his anger. And the danger, from Mr. Miller's perspective, is that the way he's channelled it could make a bad situation worse.

Government insiders concede that his initial unwillingness to take the decision lying down may have helped push the province toward compromise. By framing it as a "cut," rather than a "delay," he at least got a written promise that all five projects would be completed within 10 years.

But Mr. Miller doesn't want a compromise. Afraid that delays in construction will allow future governments to backtrack on commitments, he appears to view Transit City as an all-or-nothing proposition.

What he doesn't seem to realize, or else chooses to ignore, is that - as Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne hinted on Thursday - there's a better chance of nothing than of all.

The problem is largely one of political capital, or lack thereof.

Mr. Miller is an outgoing mayor with low approval ratings, championing projects to be built by a much-maligned local transit commission recently known for botching other construction projects. Other than the provincial NDP, his most prominent ally is the chair of that commission - a city councillor who had to drop out of the race to replace him because of personal scandal, and won't even be seeking re-election in his own ward.

In other words, he's not in much of a position to scare the Liberals. The best he'll achieve, with gambits like using the PA system in subway stations to voice his complaints, is to irritate them.

At the same time, Mr. Miller appears willing to alienate the people in a position help him achieve his goals.

Until this week, he was not permitting city officials to meet with Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency given the task of submitting a revised funding plan to Queen's Park later this month. Then, after just two days of talks, the mayor went nuclear again - pre-emptively announcing that he won't accept what Metrolinx has in store.

While Metrolinx officials say they'll still try to represent his interests in their proposal, it's hard to imagine they're clamouring to be Mr. Miller's champions. And if he continues to reject their plan on behalf of the city, the Liberals may well just throw up their hands and wait for the next mayor to be elected before figuring out what comes next. And that would likely confirm Mr. Miller's worst fears, because most of the mayoral candidates are lukewarm at best about Transit City's merits.

It would be an unfortunate curtain-closer for someone whose passion in his vision for Toronto once had the province at his beck and call. Now, that passion - which has started to come across as much like petulance - puts his own legacy at risk.

 

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular