Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is extending an olive branch to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, offering to repair their rocky relationship and insisting she would not “stand in judgment” over the drug allegations dogging his administration.
In an interview at her Queen’s Park office on Tuesday, Ms. Wynne acknowledged her rapport with the chief magistrate of her province’s largest city has been difficult. But she said she wants to work more closely with him to improve affordable housing and solve the gridlock choking the city.
“There have been some rifts and that’s a problem from my perspective,” she said. “My hope is that over the next few months, we’ll be able to rebuild a better dialogue.”
While there are no immediate plans for a future meeting, a source close to Ms. Wynne said the Premier would like to sit down on a regular basis with Mr. Ford. The pair has not met since their only formal tête-à-tête in late March.
They have opposite personalities and political styles – Ms. Wynne is a left-of-centre intellectual, Mr. Ford a right-wing populist – and their disagreements on policy have played out publicly.
The mayor came out swinging against the Premier’s plan to build $34-billion worth of subways, light rail lines and other transit with new taxes and tolls. Mr. Ford also argued in favour of a special deal that would see his city get more money from a potential casino than other provincial municipalities; Ms. Wynne decreed that all cities would receive the same revenue-sharing arrangement. Mr. Ford’s older brother, Councillor Doug Ford, made plans to run for the provincial Progressive Conservatives and he used their weekly radio show to lambaste Ms. Wynne and her Liberals.
It further rankled Mr. Ford when, after his administration was thrown into disarray by allegations that he was videoed smoking crack cocaine, Ms. Wynne suggested she was prepared to step in if city hall became dysfunctional. The Premier backed off those earlier comments Tuesday, insisting that she would not meddle. Mr. Ford has denied he uses crack cocaine and has said the video does not exist.
“It’s up to the city to sort out its issues, whatever those may be,” Ms. Wynne said. “I certainly have never intended to interfere or to stand in judgment.”
Mr. Ford seemed to warm to her overtures. “We’ve always had a cordial relationship. We may disagree. Obviously, the revenue tools, the new taxes is something that we disagree on, but as a person she is very friendly,” he told reporters.
Ms. Wynne said the question of provincial-municipal relations is close to her heart – she became involved in politics in the 1990s to battle then-premier Mike Harris’s plan to merge Toronto with five of its suburbs into a single megacity.
Since coming to power in 2003, the Liberals have had a hot-and-cold rapport with the cities. The Grits earned high marks from municipal leaders for uploading some services, including court security costs and the disability support program, to the provincial level. They also agreed to build part of former Toronto mayor David Miller’s Transit City LRT network. But that relationship soured when the Liberals stretched the funding for those transit projects over a longer period of time, prompting Mr. Miller to run an advertising campaign shaming Queen’s Park.
“I’ve prided myself and ourselves on being able to rebuild that relationship,” Ms. Wynne said. “It pains me that it’s not as good as it maybe has been, and I hope that we’ll be able to rebuild those relationships.”