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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford attend an announcement at Seneca College, in King City, Ont., on Feb. 9.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford depend on the same voters to stay in power. They used to fight each other for those voters’ support. Then they learned that co-operation worked better. Now it seems they’re fighting again. It’s a fight that Mr. Trudeau is likely to lose.

Depending on where you draw the boundaries, there are about 6.5 million people in the Greater Toronto Area. After you deduct the roughly 900,000 people living in central Toronto, who often have different voting patterns than the rest, that makes about 5.6 million people in the suburban GTA, representing 14 per cent of Canada’s population.

The voters of the suburban GTA tend to vote as a block. For more than six decades, since the days of John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson federally and Leslie Frost and John Robarts provincially, they have almost always supported the political party that ended up forming the government.

In the 2021 federal and 2022 provincial elections, they installed Liberals on Parliament Hill and Progressive Conservatives at Queen’s Park.

After he was first elected in 2018, Mr. Ford behaved as though he was the unofficial opposition to Mr. Trudeau, waging war especially over the federal carbon tax. But when Mr. Ford found his popularity waning, he pivoted, co-operating with Ottawa so closely during the pandemic that he declared: “I absolutely love [Deputy Prime Minister] Chrystia Freeland. She’s amazing.”

He had learned one of the most important lessons in Canadian politics: suburban GTA voters are happy to see one party in office federally and another provincially, but they want the two to get along.

Although Mr. Trudeau held Mr. Ford responsible in part for the blockades that led the Prime Minister to invoke the Emergencies Act, the two governments co-operated during negotiations to protect the North American free-trade agreement and in bringing new automotive plants to the province.

But last week, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault sounded anything but co-operative when he announced there would be no more federal funding for any major expansion of the country’s network of roads: “We can very well achieve our goals of economic, social and human development without more enlargement of the road network,” he declared.

“I’m gobsmacked,” the Premier tweeted in response. “A federal minister said they won’t invest in new roads or highways. He doesn’t care that you’re stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. I do. We’re building roads and highways, with or without a cent from the feds.”

The Ford government wants to build a major new highway, the 59-kilometre Highway 413, with the aim of easing congestion in York, Peel and Halton regions in the GTA.

Environmental groups and public-transit advocates stoutly oppose the highway, and the Trudeau government has subjected it to a time-consuming environmental review. The Ford government has gone to court to force Ottawa to stop interfering.

Regardless of that outcome, it’s reasonable to assume that the 413 will receive not a penny of federal funding for as long as Mr. Guilbeault is Environment Minister.

The GTA is one of the fastest-growing regions in North America. Its population is projected to balloon from 7.2 million in 2022 to 10.5 million by 2046.

While investments in public transit are important, about three-quarters of all workers in the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area, which includes most of the Greater Toronto Area, commute by car, according to Statistics Canada

In the next federal election, you can count on seeing this: Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre will plant himself somewhere along the planned path of Highway 413. He will declare that a Conservative government will scrap the environmental review and pay its full share of the cost of the new road.

He might even crib from a line that PC leader Mike Harris used in the 1995 Ontario election campaign, when he promised a four-lane highway linking Ottawa to Highway 401 by 1999 with “no ifs, no ands, no buts and no tolls.” The Tories took two Ottawa seats from the Liberals in that election.

Highway 416 was completed on schedule.

The Liberals, unless they are prepared to jettison Mr. Guilbeault, will probably have no choice but to oppose Highway 413, just as the provincial Liberals and NDP opposed it during the 2022 provincial election.

In that election, Mr. Ford’s PCs swept the ridings the new highway would go through. Care to predict what the outcome would be federally?

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