Ontario's Liberal government is willing to work with all the newly elected mayors across the province, even if their ideas differ from current provincial policy, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.
In particular, he said the government is open to a proposal from Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford to alter the region's $17.5-billion transit plan, which the province approved after promising to invest more than $9 billion.
Ford favours subways over streetcars, and opposes the current Transit City plan, which calls for the construction of new light rail lines. But McGuinty said the province has a responsibility to listen to requests from the new city council.
"Our job, whether below ground or above ground, is to find common ground," the premier told reporters. "I know that mayor-elect Ford has made a number of comments on various issues that involve the province, so at some point in time their officials may want to talk to our officials and we're going to figure out where we're going to go."
Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, who harshly criticized Ford during the campaign for practising what she called the politics of division, said Transit City is a regional plan with lots of players.
"I want us all to remember the city of Toronto is part of a region and that the transit plan that we're working on is a regional transit plan that was developed in that way," Wynne told reporters. "So to the extent that I want to work with the city of Toronto council, I want to work with all the councils in the [Greater Toronto and Hamilton area]. That's an important context for this."
McGuinty, who called Ford on Monday night to offer congratulations, declined comment on whether he would approve Ford's plan to cut the size of Toronto city council in half. The premier also refused to say how he would react to Ford's plans to scrap Toronto's land transfer tax and vehicle registration tax, both imposed after the city got new taxation powers from McGuinty's government.
For his part, Ford said eliminating the car registration tax would be his first order of business as mayor. "I want to get rid of the $60 car registration tax — that's the first thing, hopefully in the first council meeting … and then I'm going to be tackling the land transfer tax," Ford told reporters Tuesday.
"There's a lot of fat down at city hall and there's a lot of waste, so it won't be hard to fill in the $38 [million] or $40 million for the vehicle registration tax."
Municipal Affairs Minister Rick Bartolucci confirmed Tuesday that the city does not need Ontario's permission to rescind either of the taxes.
Ford buzz in Ottawa
Ford's victory was also the talk of Parliament Hill on Tuesday, but Government House Leader John Baird, a former Ontario cabinet minister, refused to draw any conclusions publicly about federal or provincial political realignments.
"I think in Toronto there was just a real frustration with the status quo," said Baird. "I think it would perhaps be a little bit much to read too much into it as far as federal-provincial [politics] goes."
However, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, another Queen's Park alumnus, drew a big cheer from Conservative ranks in the House of Commons when he congratulated Ford on his victory.
Baird, who recently criticized Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff as being part of the "Toronto elites," mischievously resurrected the term. "The one thing you can say is that certainly Rob Ford was not elected by the Toronto elites," the grinning minister said outside the House.
McGuinty also declined to comment on how the victory by the right-wing Ford over former Liberal deputy premier George Smitherman could affect the Liberals in next October's provincial election. "I'll let others read whatever they choose into this or out of this, and we'll stay focused on our responsibilities," he said.
However, the provincial opposition parties had no reluctance in declaring Monday's municipal results bad news for the McGuinty Liberals with just one year before an Ontario election.