Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked for a private meeting with Toronto's new mayor, John Tory, even as he continues to put off a meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne.
Just two weeks into his term, Mr. Tory met with Mr. Harper in a private terminal for more than an hour at Toronto's Pearson Airport on Thursday evening – their second meeting in half a year. On the same day, Ms. Wynne had expressed frustration about trying to get the Prime Minister to sit down with her, saying they have not met for about a year.
While the meeting with Mr. Tory was the Prime Minister's idea, the mayor made it clear he was anxious for a sit-down too. It gave Mr. Tory a chance to make an official pitch to the Prime Minister for funding for transit in Toronto – a region considered to be important for the Conservatives in the next federal election.
"If I had to drive his car as his chauffeur for any period of time in order to have a meeting with him, to advance the interests of the people of Toronto, I would do that," Mr. Tory joked to reporters on Friday. He said the meeting was kept under wraps in advance due to "uncertainty" over whether it would happen.
Ever since Mr. Tory was elected in October, the Prime Minister has been trying to fit in a sit-down with him. Even after the get-together was set for Thursday afternoon, there were concerns that a snow storm or Mr. Harper's busy schedule would derail it.
But at about 7 p.m. on Thursday, after attending events in Mississauga, the Prime Minister arrived at a private terminal at Pearson Airport. Also in the room was federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver. They spoke with Mr. Tory spoke for more than an hour about housing, jobs and transit – including possible funding for Mr. Tory's $8-billion SmartTrack plan.
"It was a very productive and constructive meeting," Mr. Tory said on Friday. "We had a good chance to have quite an in-depth discussion about what SmartTrack was, and how it would be helpful in terms of connecting people to jobs, helpful in a regional context, very helpful to the 416 and the city of Toronto."
Mr. Harper's spokesman Jason MacDonald described the meeting as a "good, productive discussion." Mr. MacDonald said the meeting was held because Mr. Tory has just become mayor of Canada's largest city.
Before the October election, Mr. Tory's team consulted advisers to both the Prime Minister and Premier in developing the transit plan – which extends into the vote-rich 905 – to lay groundwork for the necessary financial support from both levels of government.
Mr. Tory met with Ms. Wynne at Queen's Park a week ago. But on Friday he sidestepped questions about whether he might be a go-between in the ongoing tensions between the Prime Minister and Premier.
"I've got my job to do," Mr. Tory said, "and I'll be trying to use in a productive way the relationships I have to hopefully make the partnership between all three governments work better."
Mr. Tory met privately in Ottawa with the Prime Minister in the summer after he emerged as the front-runner in the mayoral race, The Globe and Mail reported earlier this year.
Conservative pollster Nick Kouvalis, who was on the mayor's campaign team, said Toronto and its suburbs could determine the fate of the Tories in next year's election.
If they can hold their existing seats and pick up most of the newly created ridings in the region, Mr. Kouvalis said, "they have a strong opportunity to hold majority government."
A Liberal gain there could leave Mr. Harper with a minority.
Mr. Tory said he plans to stay out of the federal election. "I am the mayor of Toronto, and I am the mayor of Toronto without partisan affiliation," he said.
With a report from Bill Curry