CITY HALL BUREAU CHIEF
George Smitherman sure knows how to spoil a party.
After a vague, non-combative start to his campaign for mayor, the former deputy premier selected the day of his archrival's kickoff bash to propose an overhaul of the TTC's board and demand Adam Giambrone resign as its chair.
Mr. Smitherman also picked Monday to talk for the first time in detail about how he would lead Toronto.
In an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Smitherman opened the door to road tolls, rejected banishing bike lanes from arterial roads and promised to apply bulldog toughness to the city's finances - unlike the current administration, he said, which is struggling to impose a 5-per-cent budget cut on recalcitrant departments and agencies.
"If my bureaucracy basically shot me the finger," Mr. Smitherman said, "well, I'll let my reputation speak for itself … a shrug of the shoulders and the middle finger salute isn't going to cut it." Mr. Smitherman's clever politicking is the first sign of how pitched the battle to lead Toronto could be.
Hours after Mr. Smitherman made his pronouncements, Mr. Giambrone officially began his campaign with the splashiest opening of the race so far - a packed party at Revival on College Street.
"I'm a city builder," he proclaimed. "I want to build a city where people, neighbourhoods and businesses feel connected to each other."
The crowd whooped and hollered each time Mr. Giambrone repeated the refrain of his speech: "That's why I'm running for mayor." Outside, a few dozen protesters from his Davenport ward waved signs and chanted: "Adam sucks! Adam sucks!"
The TTC chairman told the packed house he wouldn't let anyone imperil Transit City, his signature light-rail expansion plan. He dismissed selling city assets, including Toronto Hydro. He vowed to agitate for Internet voting and for extending the franchise to permanent residents who have yet to become Canadian citizens.
After exiting the stage to U2's song Beautiful Day, Mr. Giambrone reiterated to reporters that he won't heed Mr. Smitherman's call to step down from the TTC. The transit agency has been mired in controversy lately, with a fare hike, token hoarding and a photo of a dozing TTC collector spurring Mr. Giambrone to apologize for its customer-service shortcomings. His experienced campaign team will have to convince voters to look past the TTC's troubles. That team includes John Laschinger, the architect of David Miller's victories in 2003 and 2006.
"Thinking back to 2003, David Miller started at 3 or 4 per cent," Mr. Laschinger said Monday. "This should be a slam dunk for us - we're starting at 18, 20."
Still, that puts Mr. Giambrone behind Mr. Smitherman, who boasts a commanding lead in early polls.
But critics say the former provincial cabinet minister's run is off to a tepid start. He sought to counter that yesterday, talking specifics and letting fly a little of his legendary ferocity.
On road tolls? He won't rule them out, and he isn't afraid to debate road pricing.
"I'm not one of those that would ever short-circuit the discussion, which I think is one of the two or three essential discussions for this election campaign, by saying I rule out that the discussion could include road-pricing strategies," he said. "They say this is the third rail of politics, that you can't talk about these things. I think the third-rail of politics in this election in Toronto is actually ideological short-circuiting of necessary conversations."
On ripping down the Gardiner Expressway east of Jarvis Street? Mr. Smitherman won't halt the ongoing environmental assessment - which he reluctantly signed off on as a provincial minister - but he doesn't see how the city can afford to tear it down.
He called pursuing the Gardiner teardown a "powerful symbol" of the Miller government biting off more than it could chew or pay for. "No one has a frigging clue where those dollars are going to come from."
On property taxes? They need to be kept in check or reduced, particularly for businesses, Mr. Smitherman said. Fiscal restraint must rule. "My view is that the challenges the city faces dictates that every individual, that every part of the entity, must be prepared to put something back on the table."
When it comes to the TTC, politicians should be relegated to a minority on the board, he said. Private-sector experts and riders should comprise the majority. And yes, Mr. Smitherman takes the TTC, though his husband owns a car for work.
"I've got my token pocket here," he said, reaching into his black winter coat and slapping a pile of tokens and change on the table at a coffee shop at Yonge and Victoria.
While Mr. Smitherman dislikes the way Toronto is currently run, he said he won't reopen divisive questions such as where bike lanes are allowed, and whether the five-cent plastic bag fee should stay in place.
"I think that the idea that we're going to have a city where bicycles are relegated to crescents and cul-de-sacs is ridiculous," he scoffed, a clear dig at Rocco Rossi, the former president of the federal Liberal Party who is trying to challenge Mr. Smitherman from the right.
In his maiden speech last month, Mr. Rossi promised to banish new bike lanes from arterial roads, mocked the five-cent bag fee and unveiled half-a-dozen other promises aimed at right-of-centre voters.
"I'm not going to just make a speech, pop out a couple of things, wrap a bow around it and call it a vision," Mr. Smitherman said. "I'm going to bring forward a fiscal plan which is appropriate in its sophistication to the size of the budget that's there and reflective of the fact that I've actually worked with budgets this big."
With a report from Marcus Gee