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Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leave a campaign rally together in Brampton,Ontario on Friday April 29, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford leave a campaign rally together in Brampton,Ontario on Friday April 29, 2011. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Ford's gamble of backing Harper puts him in a sweet spot Add to ...

Mayor Rob Ford hesitated before throwing his support behind Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. As leader of a junior level of government, dependent on the provincial and federal levels, he knows the risks of coming out openly for one party over another, even if his conservative sympathies are obvious to all.

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But as the May 2 vote approached, his former campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, showed the mayor polling data indicating that Mr. Harper's Conservatives could take up to 70 seats in Ontario, positioning them to win a majority government.

Itching to get into the fray, Mr. Ford overcame his doubts and issued an open endorsement of the Harper Tories, Mr. Kouvalis says. "He wanted to get involved, but he had to play it smart. When he was sure Harper was going to win, he came out. He made a gamble and it paid off for him."

Did it ever. Mr. Ford now finds himself in a sweet spot, waiting to collect the dividends of his gamble in the form of support from a grateful Conservative majority government. One of the leading lights of that government, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, happens to be a good friend and long-time ally of the Ford family. Mr. Ford stands to gain more allies if, as expected, Mr. Harper appoints some of his new Toronto MPs to cabinet posts.

It doesn't hurt that the polls are indicating that voters may elect yet another rock-ribbed, Ford-friendly Conservative, Tim Hudak, to replace Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in October. What if, by the first snowfall, conservatives were in charge in Ottawa, Queen's Park and city hall? It would be a Ford fantasy come true.

When Doug Ford talked to his brother Rob on election night, the excited mayor told him "we'll be doing cartwheels in the street" if Mr. Harper pulls off a majority. Doug Ford laughs at the idea of his extra-large brother pulling such a stunt - "maybe if he knocks off 100 pounds" - but the elation of the Ford family is real.

Not only have they notched up another political win, the latest of many in a young but charmed mayoralty, they see all sorts of benefits flowing to the city from its tight relationship with the federal Tories. Though Doug Ford insists that "absolutely no deals were made whatsoever" for the mayor's endorsement, "we have their ear and they have our ear, and that's the starting point right there."

He is hoping that, at the very least, the Tories will kick in money from Ottawa's $1.2-billion infrastructure fund to get a start on the mayor's planned $4-billion Sheppard subway.

Mr. Kouvalis says that Monday's results should also help put pressure on Mr. McGuinty to help Toronto - for example, by moving faster to shoulder more of the city's welfare costs. As Mr. Kouvalis sees it, "McGuinty's looking at these numbers and he's thinking, 'Oh shit, I've got to do what Ford wants.' "

It remains to be seen whether the Tory win will be as good as all that, either for Toronto or for the Fords. Much of downtown Toronto went NDP orange, not Tory blue, and swaths of the suburban northeast and northwest of the city stayed in NDP or Liberal hands. As for the money the Fords seem to expect, they should remember that their pals in Ottawa face a towering budget deficit, with a tight self-imposed timetable for eliminating it. Funding suburban subways may not be their top priority.

"I don't think we're going to see a gravy train of federal cash coming Toronto's way," says Ryerson University scholar Myer Siemiatycki. "More than anything, Mr. Ford needs money and more than anything Mr. Harper needs to save money. Between the mayor of Toronto and the prime minister of Canada, it is the prime minister who calls the shots."

Still, it was undoubtedly a good night for Ford Nation and its uncrowned king. No wonder he feels like doing cartwheels.

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