The Q&A: Nick Kouvalis is cashing in on his newfound cachet right, left and centre

The Q&A: Nick Kouvalis is cashing in on his newfound cachet right, left and centre

A chat with the political strategist everyone wants in their corner

Nick Kouvalis

In a year, you’ve gone from mastermind of Rob Ford’s campaign to crusader for the firefighters’ union. Does that make you a hypocrite?
Firefighters are not gravy. It’s a huge mistake to cut them. It’s also silly to think I’ll never work for a company that has competing interests with a previous client.

During the campaign, how much thought did you give to the feasibility of what you were promising? Ford made it sound like it would be a walk in the park.
There was a clear path to fill the budget gap by selling a few assets and making a few cuts but not closing libraries and cutting firefighters and that kind of stuff.

But libraries, zoos, daycare—they’re all on the table now. The “no service cuts, guaranteed”—that’s a joke now, isn’t it?
I think what Rob was trying to say was, we’re not going to cut what’s important, and this process is showing what’s a need versus what’s a want.

So you didn’t tell Ford to guarantee it?
No, no, no, and I didn’t like the fact that he did, but it’s his campaign, right? Don’t get me wrong: I love these guys. They’re my friends. I had lunch with Doug today. We’re always challenging each other. That’s a good thing. It’s really bad when everyone around you is saying, “You’re right, boss, you’re right.”

A lot of people have the impression you ran a dirty campaign. What’s your reaction to that?
The fact of the matter is, all your downtown champagne-sipping socialists can’t understand how some kid from Windsor came in and kicked the shit out of them. It happened. They should get over it.

Is there anyone you wouldn’t work for?
I don’t think you’ll ever see me working for CUPE Local 416.

On principle, or because they wouldn’t have you?
On principle. What do you mean they wouldn’t have me? I’m pretty sure they would have me.

Did it surprise you that Ford pushed back so hard against some of these groups, particularly the police?

I think the budgetary pressure is significant, so they’ve got to look everywhere. One thing we realized when we got to city hall was that the bureaucrats—the city manager, the deputy manager, the 44 department heads—are working hard: 12, 15, 16 hours a day. Joe Pennachetti is working hard. So there’s not a lot of “gravy” at city hall, per se.

Do you think Ford had any effect on the provincial election?
It’s unfortunate that the Hudak team laid blame at the feet of the mayor. I mean, they didn’t pick up any seats in the 905, and they lost a lot of seats in other urban centres. How was that Rob’s fault?

Hudak certainly didn’t run a very conservative campaign. Was that a mistake?
I think it was a big mistake. Hudak’s team tried to talk about the doubling of the debt, but they didn’t talk about it enough. I don’t think people were interested in ankle bracelets and chain gangs. There has been a 50 per cent increase in the bureaucracy, and these guys have the top wages and benefits, and Dalton McGuinty squandered $1  billion on eHealth. These are the things that are crushing the economy. If we had talked about this more, we would have won the election.

You say “we.” Will you run for office?
No. I don’t think so.

Can you describe your politics? How conservative are you, and in what ways?
I’m not as conservative as some people would suggest, but probably more than the people of Toronto would like.

Chris Selley is a columnist for the National Post.