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Dalton McGuinty, David Miller spar over TTC

By Robert Benzie
Robyn Doolittle
Staff Reporters

Make essential service designation election issue, premier says, but mayor warns of costly contracts

Toronto voters should make essential service designation for the TTC a key issue in the Oct. 25 city election, says Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a better time for a really good public debate on this issue,” the premier said Tuesday.

But at city hall, an unhappy Mayor David Miller shot back that McGuinty should butt out of local politics. “He intervened in a municipal election … and that’s not right,” he said, noting that deeming TTC employees essential - like police and firefighters - would mean costlier contract settlements.

“You know, is he going to do this in Ottawa where a former cabinet minister (Jim Watson) is running?”

That remark was a reference to the fact that McGuinty’s friend and former deputy premier, George Smitherman, is the leading candidate to succeed Miller this fall.

Smitherman, who has criticized the mayor’s leadership, welcomed Liberal MPP David Caplan’s new private member’s bill, which would outlaw transit strikes.

“There are valid concerns about the cost of arbitrated wage settlements that go along with deeming a service, such as the TTC, essential. But I want to applaud David Caplan’s … bill as it reflects an appropriate source of concern about the cost of a TTC strike to the city and commuters,” the front-running mayoral candidate said Tuesday.

“There can be no doubt that work stoppages cause a huge disruption,” said Smitherman.

In the wake of Caplan’s initiative, McGuinty said he’s all ears if the next mayor and council - as opposed to the lame-duck incumbents - ask the province to act.

“It would be healthy if this became something that achieved a little bit more prominence during the course of the campaign,” said McGuinty, indicating he doesn’t want to enact the Don Valley East MPP’s legislation until the next city council asks for it.

“The best thing for us to do here at Queen’s Park is to wait for the new council to come forward and debate this,” he said.

“As I’ve said before, if they think this is in the interest of Torontonians that we move in that direction that is something we would obviously very carefully consider.”

Caplan, whose bill passed first reading on Monday by a vote of 39-7 but will likely die on the order paper when the House prorogues later this week, noted “there is significant dissatisfaction with the service on the TTC … the unreliability and the work disruptions.”

But Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto Danforth) said city residents don’t want the province to control the transit system and pointed to problems with transparency at the Metrolinx regional transit authority.

While Miller was unhappy at McGuinty’s “direct intervention in a municipal election,” he conceded the Liberals have helped Toronto since taking office in 2003.

“We’ve had a very good relationship and you know our city budget’s in much better shape because of the uploading of the City of Toronto Act,” said the mayor, noting city hall narrowly rejected seeking the essential service designation in 2008.

“But he should be in his own election, not in ones that are the jurisdiction of the people of Toronto. City council spoke on this issue.”

With files from Rob Ferguson and Tess Kalinowski




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