John Tory insists his relationship with Kathleen Wynne is just fine. As Mayor, he always tries to conduct his dealings with the Ontario Premier in a “civilized, constructive” manner. He is careful to give her credit when she does something for the city and careful not to make it personal when he finds himself at odds with her. When he makes demands of the Liberal government, he likes to do it “directly and firmly and courteously.”
As he put it on Tuesday afternoon in his City Hall office, “She has a tough job to do. So do I.” Even so, it’s hard to overlook the peevish tone that has crept into the Mayor’s recent exchanges with the government up the road at Queen’s Park.
Mr. Tory and Ms. Wynne seemed to get along famously when they first started meeting as Mayor and Premier in 2015. Both came to power relatively late in life. Both were delighted to have the chance to get things done. Though they were once adversaries in provincial politics, and even ran head to head in a general election (she won), they seemed to like and respect each other. They were on the same wavelength about the importance of investing in public transit and other big-city needs.
But it’s hard for a mayor and a premier to remain on sunny terms. In theory, they should work as partners. In reality, the relationship is usually adversarial. Mayors always want more from premiers – more money for roads, transit and housing; more power to levy new taxes of their own; more, more and more. Premiers inevitably have to say no. Mayors get annoyed at being denied. Premiers gets annoyed at the constant badgering from city hall.
Inevitably, they fall out. As Mr. Tory puts it, it’s not always possible to have sweetness and light. The realities of governing “make it harder as time goes by.”
David Miller went on an angry campaign against Dalton McGuinty after the provincial government scaled back his ambitious Transit City plan for a network of light-rail lines. He even had his message against the cuts played on the public-address system of the Toronto Transit Commission.
Rob Ford, a Conservative supporter, never made much of an effort to get along with Mr. McGuinty and Ms. Wynne. They were Liberals, after all.
Conflict between Mr. Tory and Ms. Wynne broke out when the Premier denied Toronto the authority to impose tolls on two highways: the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Parkway. The city wanted the toll money to fix the highways and pay for better transit.
Mr. Tory felt betrayed, and with good reason. Queen’s Park had signalled it would okay the proposal. Then Ms. Wynne, with an election on the horizon, chickened out and said no. Mr. Tory had taken a big political risk with the toll idea, only to find the rug pulled out from under him. He said he was tired of being “treated like a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants” whenever he needed something.
Ever since, he has been urging the provincial government to atone for its treachery. How? By giving the city oodles of cash, of course. On Tuesday, with a provincial budget day approaching, he released a letter demanding more money to pay for transit projects, social-housing repairs, highway maintenance and a shopping list of other needs. Oh, and he wants the power to levy a hotel tax, too.
Even if the needs are real, Mr. Tory can’t really expect to guilt Ms. Wynne into handing over billions. With a crushing debt after a year of budget deficits, the provincial government has limited ability to help.
Ms. Wynne said on Tuesday that the province is already investing big money in transit. It is giving Toronto more money from the gas tax, too. Despite the unpleasantness over tolls, it will keep working in partnership with Mr. Tory and Toronto City Council. “I actually don’t see any point of contention here,” she told reporters.
Ha. Contention is the nature of the relationship. Mayors and premiers, even pleasant, reasonable ones like Mr. Tory and Ms. Wynne, are destined to clash.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Kathleen Wynne beat John Tory in a by-election. It was a general election. This version has been corrected.Report Typo/Error