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De facto Toronto mayor Norm Kelly seeks talks with Ottawa

Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly says his big issue in the new year will be maintaining calmness and stability.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

It has been a month since Toronto city councillors gave Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly expanded powers, staff and office budget and asked him to fill in for Rob Ford as the city's de facto mayor.

While Mr. Kelly's relationship with the province was clearly established when Premier Kathleen Wynne requested a meeting with him, his relationship with the federal government remains fuzzy. One big question to be answered in the weeks ahead: Will the Conservative government deal with Mr. Kelly or Mr. Ford, or both?

A spokesperson for Jim Flaherty, however, suggested the federal Finance Minister will stick with Mr. Ford. "Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto," said Mr. Flaherty's press secretary Marie Prentice in an e-mail Friday. "The minister will continue to meet him in his capacity as mayor. However, as he always has, he will continue to meet with other municipal politicians to help promote jobs and growth in Toronto."

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Mr. Kelly, meanwhile, has embraced his new-found profile, delivering a lunchtime speech to a Bay Street crowd, brokering a compromise deferral on the controversial expansion of the island airport and offering up year-end interviews with the media – an annual ritual usually reserved for prime ministers, premiers and mayors. (Mr. Ford has not done year-end interviews since 2011 and requests this year for a sit-down with The Globe and Mail were not answered.)

Although Mr. Kelly will hold his expanded role only until next year's October election, he says he will not be sitting back and is hoping to help shape city priorities and get federal, provincial and Toronto officials talking together about transit and infrastructure funding.

What was your best moment this year?

Best can be defined in a number of ways. While I wasn't looking forward to it – in fact I wasn't even anticipating it – the best, most important moment for me was accepting the transfer of certain authorities from the mayor's office to the deputy mayor. It's not a triumphal moment, but it provided me the opportunity to make an enhanced contribution to the life of the city.

The worst?

I've often said that the best job in politics in the country is that of a councillor in the city of Toronto. … Nothing stands out as the nadir.

You are a teacher by profession. What have you learned this year?

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One of the things I've learned (since taking on new responsibilities) is how demanding this job is. More often than not, policy initiatives come from staff or your fellow colleagues. To put them into play, you've got to start talking to people. You've got to make choices. What are the ones that have to be nurtured, promoted, defended.

What will be your big issue in the new year?

Maintaining calmness and stability. It may be a little more challenging than usual next year because next year is an election year. I think it is really important to regain the respect of the residents of Toronto. I think we lost a lot of that over the last six months.

What happens if there is another bombshell involving the mayor?

Contain it. And make sure everyone knows those are personal issues.

What happens with the city's relationship with the federal government? You have spoken to Premier Wynne, but there is big federal money for the subway. What happens with that relationship?

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The two biggest challenges to the quality of life in this city is gridlock and, by extension, transit and infrastructure. In order to do that effectively, we must engage our provincial and federal partners.

Do you have authority to talk to the federal government?

Premier Wynne answered that question [by meeting with him].

She answered it for the province. What about the federal government?

We'll test that. I want the province and the city and the feds at the same table to talk about transit and infrastructure and sustainable funding. How that is configured, I don't know.

You are doing to do that by October?

Launch it.

You are going to run again as a councillor in October?


With a report from Bill Curry

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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