TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government is willing to work with all the newly elected mayors and councillors across the province following Monday's municipal elections, even if their ideas differ from current provincial policy, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.
The province is open to new ideas from Toronto's mayor-elect Rob Ford, including his proposal to alter the region's $17.5-billion transit plan, which was approved by - and mainly funded by - the province, said McGuinty.
Ford favours subways over streetcars, which are a major component of the current Transit City plan, but McGuinty said the province has a responsibility to listen to requests from the new city council.
“Our job, whether below ground or above ground, is to find common ground,” the premier told reporters.
“I know that mayor-elect Ford has made a number of comments on various issues that involve the province, so at some point in time their officials may want to talk to our officials and we're going to figure out where we're going to go.”
Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, who harshly criticized Ford during the campaign for practising what she called the politics of division, said Transit City is a regional plan with lots of players.
“I want us all to remember the city of Toronto is part of a region and that the transit plan that we're working on is a regional transit plan that was developed in that way,” Wynne told reporters.
“So to the extent that I want to work with the city of Toronto council, I want to work with all the councils in the (Greater Toronto and Hamilton area.) That's an important context for this.”
McGuinty, who called Ford on Monday night to offer his congratulations, declined comment on whether or not he would approve Ford's plan to cut the size of Toronto city council in half.
The premier also refused to say how he would react to Ford's plans to scrap Toronto's land transfer tax and vehicle registration tax, both of which were imposed after the city got new taxation powers from McGuinty's government.
Municipal Affairs Minister Rick Bartolucci confirmed Tuesday the city does not need Ontario's permission to rescind either of the taxes.
McGuinty also wouldn't comment on how the victory by the right-wing Ford over former Liberal deputy premier George Smitherman could affect the Liberals in next October's provincial election.
“I'll let others read whatever they choose into this or out of this, and we'll stay focused on our responsibilities,” he said.
However, the opposition parties had no reluctance in declaring Monday's municipal results bad news for the McGuinty Liberals with just one year before an Ontario election.
“Rob Ford was very clear where he stood: reduce taxes, end the gravy train of runaway spending and make sure that government works for the people who work hard and pay the bills,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
“I'm hearing the same themes right across the province of Ontario, a growing mood for change from the path we're on under Premier McGuinty.”
The New Democrats said mayors were tossed out in cities across Ontario regardless of their political stripes.
“I don't think they were a right thing or a left thing. I think they were all about change,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
“And I think a two-term government that's running out of steam and is out of touch with the people of the province should be pretty concerned about what happened in the elections last night.”
As for a possible provincial appointment of some sort for Smitherman, McGuinty was noncommittal, saying the former deputy premier has a lot of talent to offer any organization.
“George is a guy with lots of energy and lots of ability and he will undoubtedly find some way to land on his feet,” said McGuinty.