Ontario cabinet heavyweight Brad Duguid has delivered a ringing endorsement of John Tory's campaign – the most visible sign of the extensive support the mayoral front-runner enjoys from the province's Liberal government.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne's administration is ostensibly staying neutral in the battle for Toronto city hall, Mr. Tory counts a slew of allies within her caucus. And Ms. Wynne's circle is said to like SmartTrack, Mr. Tory's signature proposal to build a lengthy new TTC line in GO rail corridors.
"My Liberal colleagues at Queen's Park are almost unanimously enthusiastic about John's candidacy," Mr. Duguid, the Economic Development and Infrastructure Minister, said at Kennedy subway station Tuesday as Mr. Tory beamed beside him. "We see him as the guy… to provide the stable leadership to ensure that Toronto is the partner that we need."
Associate Finance Minister Mitzie Hunter, who previously worked with Mr. Tory at Civic Action, has also endorsed his candidacy. A number of other top Liberals have attended his events over the summer.
On July 17, Mr. Tory hosted an evening at the Pilot – a Yorkville watering hole frequented by the Queen's Park set – that drew crowds of Liberal staffers and MPPs. A photo from the evening shows Mr. Tory flanked by Mr. Duguid and Ms. Hunter, along with Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Zimmer and MPP Arthur Potts. He also held a breakfast at Queen's Park that month which campaign co-chair Bob Richardson estimated drew about two-thirds of the Grits' GTA caucus.
Mr. Richardson said more MPPs are expected to formally endorse Mr. Tory in the future. Others prefer to stay behind the scenes, some of them offering advice on policy.
"There will be some more that will be coming out over the next few weeks," he said in an interview. "There are some who will be publicly neutral but they've been very supportive and helpful for us in our work."
Polls in recent weeks have shown Mr. Tory with a steady lead a little less than two months ahead of the Oct. 27 vote, besting Mayor Rob Ford, former MP Olivia Chow and former city budget chief David Soknacki.
Much of Mr. Tory's campaign has been structured around his transit proposal, to build a "surface subway" modeled on London's Overground network. The line would run from north Scarborough to downtown, then west and north to Pearson airport, using a series of GO corridors. The plan is designed to dovetail with the province's planned electrification of GO.
Mr. Richardson said the campaign consulted with both current and former transit officials from a variety of agencies – including the TTC and Metrolinx, which runs GO – while developing the plan.
Mr. Tory is also in favour of extending the Bloor-Danforth subway into Scarborough, as opposed to running an LRT line in the area, which Mr. Soknacki and Ms. Chow support. The subway is still not completely funded, but appears to be the plan Ms. Wynne's government favours. The Liberals moved to kill the already funded LRT last summer as they moved to shore up their suburban vote.
Ms. Wynne's office would not say if she had met with Mr. Tory, or whether she was aware of Mr. Duguid's plan to declare most of the caucus in support of him ahead of time.
"The Premier has told Ministers and caucus that they are free to make their own decisions about weighing in," her spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. "Again, the Premier has interacted informally with many municipal candidates, including John Tory and other Toronto candidates, at various public events."
Mr. Tory has a long history with some of the members of the Liberal government. Finance Minister Charles Sousa co-chaired his previous mayoral run in 2003, and Mr. Tory praised him effusively when he was appointed to the top echelon of cabinet last year.
He tried to wrest Ms. Wynne's Don Valley West riding from her in 2007, when he was provincial Progressive Conservative leader, but was defeated heavily. Since then, however, the pair are said to have developed a friendly rapport.
At his event with Mr. Duguid, Mr. Tory touted his strong ties to the Wynne government.
"It is going to be absolutely essential for the next mayor of Toronto to work very closely and well with the government of Ontario… and with the federal government in Ottawa," he said. "The relationship I have with Brad and many others in his government will help us to do that and to do that for the benefit of people in Toronto."
With a report from Adam Radwanski