When Rob Ford first came calling four years ago, the sitting premier had to sit down and take a deep breath.
When Ford huffed, Dalton McGuinty heeded him. Only when Ford puffed (in excess — ultimately cracking) did the premier catch his breath, belatedly resisting the mayor’s transit tirades.
Now there’s a new chief magistrate in town. When a freshly elected John Tory came calling on the current premier this week, Kathleen Wynne breathed easier.
With mayoral crack pipes now in the past, Tory and Wynne smoked the peace pipe together — sending a signal of future harmony between city hall and Queen’s Park.
“Hallelujah,” Wynne had proclaimed when Tory triumphed last month. She was still saying her hosannas when the new mayor swung by her office Monday.
Back in 2007, the two politicians opposed each other in her home riding of Don Valley West. Wynne beat back his election challenge, but the two hit it off.
Today, despite their ideological differences and partisan conflicts, they remain remarkably aligned both in substance and style. Their joint news conference was a love-in — the two politicians deferential, respectful, thoughtful.
How long can the honeymoon last before they start bickering over the bills?
There will be disagreements, but the relationship goes beyond mutual respect to include mutual linkages: One of the premier’s former policy advisers, Stephen Johnson, now works for the mayor; her one-time campaign manager, Tom Allison, helped get Tory elected.
Early rumblings within Wynne’s Toronto caucus have also dissipated. Scarborough MPPs who publicly campaigned for subways in their back yard had feared Tory’s catchy SmartTrack campaign platform — which stresses regional rail over suburban tunnels — might imperil their promises.
But Wynne and Tory insist they are both on the same track on SmartTrack. And they publicly reaffirmed their fealty to a Scarborough subway extension, for better or for worse. Subway lines and regional commuter lines are not mutually exclusive, they declared in unison.
For all its funding flaws — build now, pay later — Tory’s SmartTrack follows largely the same path as Wynne’s Regional Express Rail plan, by linking outlying communities to downtown Toronto. Its chief advantage is that its chief salesperson, Tory, can use his political connections to help bankroll and ultimately build those railway connections.
The new mayor will soon meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper to press Toronto’s case for more federal transit funding. Tory is especially well-placed to triangulate between Ottawa and Queen’s Park in pursuing the city’s agenda, because he remains on good terms with both.
In power, Ford had a direct line to his old family friend, the late Jim Flaherty, when he was finance minister. But the disgraced mayor couldn’t get any time with Wynne after council effectively stripped him of his powers. Now it’s Wynne who finds herself cut off — by the prime minister, who keeps refusing her requests for a meeting to discuss transit and infrastructure funding, even while making time for most other premiers and the mayor.
That’s where Tory’s triangulation and mediation talents could prove helpful. During Monday’s meeting, he raised the subject of her prime ministerial estrangement and volunteered, privately, to play peacemaker — not merely as a personal favour, but to further his own policy agenda by securing funding from both senior levels of government in tandem.
Tory and Wynne also agreed to regular joint meetings — they both have a fondness for “conversations” or, in the premier’s new formulation, “collaborative discussions.” But for all the easy talk about conversations, Tory made an important point about his newly formalized relationship with Wynne:
“We can rely on each other.”
There is little evident concern about competing political agendas, given that they both share a similar power base of support among Toronto voters. The same cannot be said for Wynne’s strained relationship with the prime minister.
If she can leverage her honeymoon with Tory to get Harper’s ear — and win federal funding — the new mayor will have done the premier, and the province, a service.