Could Stephen Harper win Toronto seats with TTC cash?

Could Stephen Harper win Toronto seats with TTC cash?

Just don't call it a gravy train: federal funds for the TTC could help Harper’s chances in a city that just voted for Rob Ford  

Judging by the amount of ink that has already been spilled over a potential federal election, it’s not too early to start speculating on what will happen if the writ drops. A few things are pretty clear: if there’s an election, it’s likely to be triggered by the spring budget, brought forward by Jim Flaherty in late March. So what will Flaherty (and Stephen Harper) put in said budget? It’s still a mystery, but the Tories presumably have three priorities:

1) Avoid an election if possible
2) If an election can’t be avoided, get the Conservative Party on the best footing possible
3) Put the Liberals (and to a lesser extent, the NDP) on the worst footing possible.

One good way to accomplish numbers two and three would be for the feds to do in a big way what they’ve only done in a small way so far: give some cash to the TTC.

John Lorinc raises the possibility of Rob Ford using his political acumen to get federal cash from Ottawa—and remember that Jim Flaherty went out of his way to endorse Ford during the election. We are skeptical about Conservative Ottawa going out of its way to help Toronto for much of anything, but the idea could actually be palatable for Harper and company if it means screwing the Liberals. As Lorinc notes, the rumours are that Ottawa will find itself with a smaller deficit than expected—which by Ottawa’s logic means there’s more spending to be done.

Conveniently, Mayor Ford’s subway plan is a large-scale project in Toronto that needs a large infusion of free money to get off the ground. Nobody even knows what the plan is yet (Ford aide Nick Kouvalis muddied the waters further on Friday), but it’s almost certainly going to need billions more than the city and province have committed. In interviews last week, the province and Metrolinx confirmed that while they’re negotiating constructively with the city, money is a red line: there’s nothing more coming for Toronto. That leaves the Ford-friendly feds as the only ones with enough money to throw the city’s way.

And politically, it could be a potential winner. Forcing the opposition to either vote for their spring budget or vote against TTC funding is a win-win for Harper. Either the government avoids an election, or they get one in which the Liberals and NDP have to vote against transit funding for North Toronto. Lord knows Harper’s eyeing the local suburbs for votes, and TTC money would do a lot more for Conservatives in those regions than having Julian Fantino in Vaughan.

This is all idle speculation, of course. We’d be shocked to see federal bucks for Toronto in the budget. Then again, “Fortress Toronto” has been very good for the Liberal Party, but has been less than problem-free for Toronto. If the Conservatives weren’t looking at being competitive in the city for the first time since the Mulroney years, this wouldn’t even be speculation. It would be fantasy.

• LORINC: Shilling for subways [Spacing]