Toronto·Analysis

Will John Tory's battle with the province pay off for Toronto? 3 experts weigh in

With Ontario’s election less than a year away, expect Mayor John Tory to keep looking for ways to pressure Queen’s Park into spending more money on Toronto.

Mayor has been calling for 'hard commitments' from Queen’s Park in recent months

Mayor John Tory has been pushing the province to make further investments in transit and social housing for months, and has no plans on stopping with the Ontario election one year away. (John Rieti/CBC)

With Ontario's election less than a year away, expect Mayor John Tory to keep looking for ways to pressure Queen's Park into spending more money on Toronto.

But, will he actually get more transit and social housing money for the city?

Tory has been hounding the government for months, but so far has been unsuccessful in getting the "hard commitments" he's told CBC Toronto he's looking for. That hasn't stopped him from deploying a host of tactics to get the government's attention, including:

  • Holding meetings and news conferences with the PC and NDP leaders, though Tory has vowed to meet with the Liberals, as well
  • Handing out flyers to TTC commuters and Toronto Community Housing residents calling for their support in his battle with the province
  • Recruiting "allies" to call for provincial funding, including city council, the mayors of Canada's biggest cities and even some leaders from the 905

Ontario's Liberal government has responded by offering up lists of its investments in the city and criticizing Tory for not appreciating what it's already doing. "Mayor Tory just can't take yes for an answer," Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca has said in multiple statements.

But Tory says he'll keep asking.

"Mayor Tory won't stop standing up for Toronto," his spokesperson Don Peat said in an email.

Province has its own priorities, political scientist says

Tory handed these flyers out to TTC subway commuters, asking them to push their MPPs to commit to funding the building costs of the future downtown relief line. (John Rieti/CBC)

"He's got nothing to lose," said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.

While it's normal for mayors to ask the province for funding, considering municipalities have less money to work with, Wiseman says the frequency of Tory's requests is uncommon. However, he isn't sure the government will cave.

"The provincial Liberals have their own priorities," he told CBC Toronto, noting the government's return to a balanced budget this year.

"They don't want to jeopardize that — especially heading into their election."

Tory and city councillors alike were quick to criticize this year's provincial  budget, saying it lacks new funding when the city desperately needs it.

Queen's Park may have questions for the mayor

Premier Kathleen Wynne's governing party may have some of their own questions for Tory, a former insider suggests. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press )

Omar Khan, a former chief of staff to several Liberal ministers who is now the vice president of public affairs with Hill and Knowlton Strategies Canada, says Tory is likely being advised that he has some leverage right now, as Premier Kathleen Wynne's government faces a big challenge to win its fifth straight election.

There is a problem, though.

He's going to need to ensure that the relationship isn't poisoned.- Omar Khan, strategist and former Liberal insider

Ontario has approved revenue tools that the city isn't using, Khan says, including the ability to implement a vehicle registration tax. He says that means Tory's likely hearing this from the province: "Before you come to us asking for more money, why don't you exhaust the revenue tools that are already available to you?"

Of course, the province's decision to shoot down the city's plan to toll the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, opting to double Toronto's share of the provincial gasoline tax by 2021 instead, is a major point of contention between the two sides.

Khan says Tory's move to work together with other politicians, including winning support from Canada's other big city mayors at a meeting in Ottawa, is a good one, but he should be careful with how far he goes in attacking the government.

"There's still a very solid chance that this government will be re-elected, and he's going to need to ensure that the relationship isn't poisoned," he said.

Tory's tough talk may have appeal, expert says

Perhaps knowing this, Tory often reiterates his thanks to the province for previous investments, and there are still recent cases where the two levels of government are working well together.

However, Tory recently said that at a time when the federal government is "coming in the front door" with funding for Toronto, the province is going out the side.

"We can't afford that," he said.

Mike Van Soelen, managing principal at Navigator Ltd., says Tory relationship with the province appears to be changing, with the mayor realizing that "quiet diplomacy" may no longer get the results he wants.

Van Soelen says Tory's more aggressive approach may also have some public appeal.

"I think Torontonians like to see their mayor fighting on their behalf," he said.

Like Wynne, Tory will be up for re-election in 2018.

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.

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