The mayors of Canada's largest cities say that having Toronto back at the table will make a "massive difference" in their lobbying efforts for federal funding.
Three members of the big-city mayors' caucus – Vancouver's Gregor Robertson, Mississauga's Bonnie Crombie, and Don Iveson of Edmonton – sat down with The Globe and Mail on Friday to discuss their campaign to make urban issues the focus of the upcoming federal election. They also said they hope the participation of Toronto Mayor John Tory – whose predecessor, Rob Ford, regularly snubbed the group – will give them greater clout.
"I can't underscore enough the importance of having Toronto at the table, fully engaged again," Mr. Iveson said.
"To have Toronto's focus on transit for the whole country – that lifts all of us in what we're trying to do," he said. He added that when the Toronto mayor spoke of the need for a 10-year national program to build transit, it was a "hallelujah moment for us."
The group gathers several times a year, and met in Toronto this week to discuss transit, infrastructure and affordable housing. In recent years, Canada's largest city has been absent from such discussions, with Mr. Ford dismissing the group as a "lefty caucus."
When Mr. Ford attended a meeting in Ottawa last year, it was at the height of his drug scandal, causing a media frenzy that overshadowed the event.
"It was a distraction for mayors across the country to have Toronto out of the picture and not functional at a national table," said Mr. Robertson, the caucus chair.
Mr. Tory told reporters this week he thought it was important for Canada's largest city to participate. "Our challenges are bigger sometimes, they're different sometimes, but they're shared by all of these cities," he said.
The Toronto mayor said he also had a chance to meet privately with Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, which he hopes will lead to a series of meetings for the two.
Mr. Tory is one of eight new members of the big-city mayors' caucus this year, which Mr. Robertson said has led to a "resurgence of energy" for the 22-member group.
As with meetings in the past, the mayors took the opportunity to highlight the need for Ottawa to give long-term funding to cities. And, with a federal election approaching, they argued the path to victory for the parties will be in appealing to vote-rich urban areas.
"The mayors in attendance yesterday represented half the ridings and two-thirds of the population of Canada," Ms. Crombie said.
"You can see the difference as the election draws nearer. I have a cabinet minister [or] the Prime Minister coming into Mississauga or Peel or Brampton every weekend."
As the election approaches, she said, the big-city mayors' caucus will unveil a campaign to persuade urban voters to think not only about traditional federal issues such as the economy and national security in casting their votes, but also transit and housing.
As part of the campaign, Ms. Crombie said, the mayors may host their own debates, and issue questionnaires asking federal candidates what specific investments they would make for cities.
"I think people are going to better connect the dots in this election," Mr. Robertson said. "It may be cheaper to fill your gas tank, but if it takes an extra 15 minutes getting to work sitting in a traffic jam, that should be an issue in the federal election."
With a report from Elizabeth Church