The organizational mastermind who helped make Kathleen Wynne Premier is preparing to jump ship just months before a likely general election and would take the helm of a John Tory mayoral campaign.
Tom Allison, Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff, wants to quit Queen's Park and join Mr. Tory should the talk-show host decide to seek Toronto's top job, sources close to both men told The Globe and Mail.
According to two senior Liberal insiders, Mr. Allison has been pushed to the sidelines within the Premier's office and is expected to move on.
If Mr. Tory does throw his hat in the ring, Mr. Allison would find himself running an eclectic campaign team, with such strange bedfellows as Nick Kouvalis, the architect of Rob Ford's victory four years ago.
"We would absolutely love to have him," said John Capobianco, a veteran Progressive Conservative activist who is assembling support for Mr. Tory. "I know if John is in, [Mr. Allison] is one of the first guys we'd go after."
One source close to Mr. Tory confirmed Mr. Allison feels the same way: "Tom would love to be campaign manager for [Mr. Tory.]"
Mr. Allison did not respond to a request for comment.
While Mr. Tory has yet to decide whether to run, Mr. Capobianco and political strategist Bob Richardson have been recruiting a high-powered group to put together a campaign infrastructure.
Besides Mr. Kouvalis, the group includes such heavyweights as Liberal cabinet minister Brad Duguid, former Toronto deputy mayor Case Ootes, and PC president Richard Ciano, along with a smattering of people from all three major political parties, sources said.
"There is a group of us that get together and talk about John's candidacy. Not on a regular interval, but infrequently," Mr. Capobianco said. "Whenever we deem it to be necessary based on how many people come up to us asking us to help John out.
"We want to keep them involved and active in the event that John does decide to run."
The group is attempting to show Mr. Tory he could win, and they are laying the groundwork for a bid.
One source close to Mr. Tory said late February or early March would be a good time for him to dive in.
A long-time Queen's Park political staffer, Mr. Allison ran the come-from-behind campaign that brought Ms. Wynne to the Liberal leadership last year ahead of favourite Sandra Pupatello.
He positioned her as a conciliator, which helped her win the support of lower-placed candidates at the leadership convention.
Mr. Allison followed Ms. Wynne into the Premier's Office, and was tapped to play a major role in the next campaign.
Last fall, however, Ms. Wynne brought in former Paul Martin adviser David Herle and organizer Pat Sorbara.
Two senior Liberals said Mr. Allison felt marginalized.
He is eyeing the exit at a difficult time for the Liberals, who lost two by-elections on Thursday and privately concede they will not be able to get a budget through the minority legislature this spring, making an election all but inevitable.
Mr. Tory, a former Rogers executive who lost the 2003 mayoral race to David Miller and later led the provincial Tories, has repeatedly said he has not made up his mind on taking another crack at city hall.
Besides Mr. Ford, former budget chief David Soknacki is running, and TTC chair Karen Stintz has said she intends to run.
New Democrat MP and former councillor Olivia Chow is in a similar position as Mr. Tory: A group of political operatives is setting up the infrastructure for a mayoral bid on her behalf, but she has said she is still trying to decide.
City councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is also said to be mulling a bid.
With reports from Adam Radwanski and Marcus Gee