Sat, October 2, 2004
When Dalton McGuinty traded the comfy confines of his Alta Vista law firm for the ruthless arena of Queen's Park, Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli hardly considered him assertive enough to be a politician, let alone premier of Ontario. To Chiarelli, then the Liberal MPP for Ottawa-West, McGuinty was the pensive and quietly successful son of a deceased and respected colleague.
Back then, McGuinty was Ottawa's unproven one. Today, Chiarelli is just happy he's Ottawa's.
More than a few local Liberals played the hometown card in last year's push to put McGuinty in the premier's office. So it only makes sense both sides are now trotting it out.
Before the question's even finished, Chiarelli's calling partisanship "absolutely, completely a red herring." The truth, he says, is in what he and many others see as a growing friction with the Tory government.
"The relationship between municipalities in the province and this provincial government is the difference between day and night," Chiarelli says. "The previous government set a scene that was quite adversarial ... and it was extremely difficult in a number of ways.
"There's a willingness now on the part of the province, they're just a much more willing partner at the table," he says.
The mayor attributes a lot of the shift in attitude to the principles and commitment of Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen, a one-time mayor himself. But Chiarelli also understands cachet. And he knows the currency of being able to call the premier a hometown boy.
"When you talk about the need for A, B, C or D, he knows it," Chiarelli says. "We're really not asking for special treatment, we're just asking ... to be given a fair shake, to have our priority items be legitimately taken as priority items and have us being welcomed into the decision-making process rather than to be climbing a greasy pole a lot of the time."
From Ottawa's perspective, McGuinty's Liberal government has met the city's priorities head-on, adds Chiarelli. He says the province is "co-operatively and positively" negotiating requested amendments to the City of Ottawa Act, has already frozen assessments in a move to begin addressing a "very unsatisfactory situation" with property taxes and, this month, will start rebating 1cents a litre on fuel tax, to the tune of about $20 million a year for the city.
It's not lost on Chiarelli that the Grits have also committed $200 million to his pet project -- light rail.
Chiarelli says his friend took the long way to the top.
"You know, quite frankly, I didn't see Dalton as a politician. He was more shy, he was a very, very pensive individual and I would even suggest for the first year or two, when he was elected to replace his father, he was rather tentative," Chiarelli says. "He's not the tentative guy today who walked into caucus some time in 1990."
That McGuinty didn't keep his election promises has left the perception he can't keep his word.
"I think there are a lot of people who are saying that's a label that will stick," Chiarelli says. "But you know on the other hand, when you look at some of the things he's doing in a whole range of areas, he's getting a lot of positive feedback.
"The reality is, come three years from now, people are going to sit back and look at his whole record," he says. "So far, the record of his commitment to our municipal government has been outstanding."