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John Baird apologizes to Toronto mayor for aiming expletive at city

TORONTO - Toronto Mayor David Miller received an apology Tuesday from John Baird after the federal transport minister used an expletive in criticizing the city's application for stimulus funding.

TORONTO - Toronto Mayor David Miller received an apology Tuesday from John Baird after the federal transport minister used an expletive in criticizing the city's application for stimulus funding.

Baird was overheard telling his aides that Toronto was the only municipality that didn't meet the criteria in its bid for money from the $4-billion infrastructure stimulus fund, but that the city was still complaining about Ottawa dragging its feet.

The minister used an obscenity in suggesting Toronto should buzz off as he walked into a media room at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention in Whistler, B.C., on Monday.

Baird, who apparently wasn't aware he was entering the media room, said Toronto was "bitching at us" and added "they should f**k off."

During question period Tuesday in the House of Commons, Baird said he "was speaking out of frustration."

"I, this morning, phoned mayor Miller and apologized," said Baird.

"The mayor and I both agreed, let's look to the future, let's continue to build on the important investment that we need to make in public transit and we've committed to work with them over the next two weeks to make it happen."

Miller said he was never informed by federal officials of any problems with his sole bid for federal funding, which requested money for a fleet of new transit vehicles.

Baird had said funding the proposal wouldn't qualify as a form of economy-boosting infrastructure stimulus, although Miller disagrees.

Toronto wants to buy 204 streetcars from Bombardier, to be built at a cost of $1.2 billion, but the city needs to secure funding from the federal and provincial governments by June 27 to make it happen.

"Building public transit transforms a city, it creates thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs," Miller said Tuesday when asked about Baird's comments.

"You can't build a transit system without having the cars, that's the point of this contract, and I'm very confident we'll find a solution because it's too important for everybody not to."

At an event in Stratford, Ont., Premier Dalton McGuinty at first made light of the comments but added Baird's word were not helpful.

"Did he say something?" McGuinty joked, while adding that Toronto's request "threw us off a little" too, although the province doesn't share Baird's assessment of the proposal.

He said the city makes a "pretty solid case" for the infrastructure cash.

"I would also remind my brethren in the federal government that we're always at our best when we work together, and I think it's really important for us to find ways to find some common ground and to build on that ground," he said.

 
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