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When Reg Pearson kicked off an 11th-hour round of talks with the Toronto Transit Commission management and its union yesterday morning, the veteran labour mediator knew everyone was making one last shot at averting a crippling transit strike.

Several hours later, the tension knots in his stomach finally began to ease as he watched Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 and Howard Moscoe, chairman of the TTC, shake hands after reaching a tentative deal that would keep the buses and subways in Canada's biggest city running.

"It's always a roller coaster ride with these guys," Mr. Pearson said in an interview last night.

The ride began at 8 o'clock yesterday morning at the Sheridan Parkway Hotel on Highway 7 in Richmond Hill, a half-hour drive north of the city that would have been paralyzed by a transit strike. Mr. Pearson, director of Labour Management Services at the Ontario Ministry of Labour, had telephoned Mr. Kinnear the previous evening and asked him to resume bargaining.

Mr. Kinnear had walked away from the table Friday afternoon, making a transit strike a distinct possibility.

Mr. Pearson spent much of yesterday watching members for both sides walk back and forth along the 10th floor of the hotel, delivering proposals and counterproposals.

The turning point leading up to the tentative accord came around 4:30 in the afternoon, said Bill Reno, spokesman for the TTC union. He said at that point, negotiations were very close to breaking down.

But both sides inched closer to a deal after the union's 15-member executive board decided to give Mr. Kinnear the authority to walk down the hall and make a deal himself, Mr. Reno said. Instead of having the entire executive board vote on a proposal, it would back whatever deal Mr. Kinnear struck.

TTC negotiators had left the 10th-floor suite to allow Mr. Kinnear and Mayor David Miller to talk on the phone in private. When Mr. Kinnear emerged, he ran into Mr. Moscoe and other members of management's negotiating team.

Mr. Miller said he called Mr. Kinnear after the talks had once again taken a turn for the worse.

"I was concerned with reports I had from the bargaining that an agreement might not be reached," Mr. Miller said.

But in his "very direct" conversation with Mr. Kinnear, Mr. Miller said he didn't tell the union leader anything he didn't already know.

"I think perhaps it was hearing it from me. I don't know. Nothing I said should have been news."

After their conversation, Mr. Miller was unsure whether a deal would be reached. So he picked up the phone at 4:45 and called Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The mayor had seen Mr. McGuinty at a mass in Toronto on Friday evening for Pope John Paul II and told him he may need to book some time with him.

The two men spoke yesterday about contingency plans in the event of a strike, including the possibility of back-to-work legislation.

The mayor's phone call to Mr. Kinnear helped break the logjam between the two sides, but not without a shouting match between the union leader and Mr. Moscoe in the hotel corridor.

"Okay, do you want a deal or do you not want a deal?" Mr. Moscoe shouted.

By 5:15, just half an hour before Mr. Kinnear would announce the tentative deal on live television from a restaurant on the hotel's ground floor, the TTC and its union had agreed to avert a strike.

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