Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

John Tory's appeal for provincial help gets drowned out by his politics

John Tory and Kathleen Wynne meet at Queen's Park in January 2017.
John Tory and Kathleen Wynne meet at Queen's Park in January 2017.

If you look to opinion polls, Mayor John Tory is a lot more popular these days than Premier Kathleen Wynne.

It’s nowhere close, really. According to separate approval rating polls published by pollster Forum Research in March, Tory’s approval rating with Toronto voters sits at 51 per cent, compared to Wynne’s rating of just 12 per cent with Ontario voters.

Let’s put that into context: Wynne could clone herself three times, creating an Orphan Black-style clone club of premiers, and Tory would still be more popular than all of them put together.

This matters. The premier’s unpopularity, coupled with the provincial election set for next spring, creates the ideal conditions for Tory to demand Queen’s Park cough up cash for transit and housing.

Some good news announcements, made with Tory by her side, could help Wynne win back some of the Toronto-area voters she needs.

Tory, to his credit, seems to get this. After Toronto City Council voted 26-18 last week to continue work on the $3.35 billion Scarborough subway extension project, Tory used a press conference to call on his political opponents to “devote 10 per cent of the energy that they have been devoting to trying to derail this subway extension project to helping me fight to get the funding from the province.”

Fair enough, but that kind of thinking runs into two big roadblocks – both of them of Tory’s own making.

I grouse about the first one a lot, but it’s worth repeating: it makes very little sense for Tory to cry poor to the provincial government while also making an annual politically-driven point of keeping property tax increases at or below the rate of inflation.

Doing so is the government equivalent of a pal telling you they’re hard-up for cash while they also cut back their own hours at work. Your first response wouldn’t be to write a cheque, but to say, “dude, maybe try making more money?”

The second roadblock relates to multi-billion projects like the Scarborough subway and the Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation. In both cases, even with cheaper, viable alternatives available, Tory — motivated by anecdotal evidence and political reasons — has pushed to go ahead with the most expensive options. Big budget increases have not deterred him.

Those types of decisions send a pretty clear message to Queen’s Park: Toronto, despite claims to the contrary, has money to fund the mayor’s priorities.

Let’s not waste words. This incoherent fiscal strategy doesn’t square with the mayor’s desire for a new deal with the provincial government. Tory has timing and popularity on his side, but the clear message he needs to send to Wynne is drowned out by his politics.

This post was originally published at on 2017-04-03T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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