There was a hint of mischievous irony a couple of weeks back when Members of Parliament duped a pollster into believing John Baird was their choice for Parliamentarian of the year.
My Member of Parliament; the Conservative cabinet representative for Ottawa; Transportation Minister; and Stephen Harper's "Go-To-Bulldog" hardly personifies the ideals of representative democracy and federal parliamentary institutions.
Still there's growing anecdotal evidence that Ottawa's incumbent Mayor, Larry O'Brien, is once again counting on Mr. Baird's auspices to catapult him back into the city's highest office, come Ontario's fall municipal elections.
O'Brien hasn't yet thrown his hat into the ring; but he's expected to jump-in pretty much any day now. By doing so he'll be facing a couple of well organized opponents, each with a degree of backroom support from the other mainstream political parties : Alex Cullen with the backing of the NDP; and former Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister, Liberal Jim Watson. (Worth noting that Watson was Mayor of Ottawa about a dozen years ago.)
Back to Leepin' Larry and John Baird: The Minister of Transportation has just announced the Federal Government's contribution of $600-Million for the construction of a first phase 12-kilometer Light-Rail-Train system, which includes a subway tunnel underneath Ottawa's downtown core. The cost of the tunnel alone may reach $800-million, and the entire controversial project will likely top $2.5 Billion.
For Ottawa ratepayers, it's "deja vue" all over again! Back during O'Brien's 2006 election (The "Zero Means Zero" campaign), Minister Baird held-off funding on an original LRT (sans tunnel) until O'Brien's supporters kiboshed the deal. The City paid about $50-million in penalties for reneging on its contract with the German industrial giant Siemens to build the line...got nothing in return.
Nothing gained, three years later; and with City Council towing the line on O'Brien's new plan (with tunnel), Minister Baird pulled-out of a joint Ontario/Canada announcement on funding the project last December; holding things off instead until this week when His Worship is about to jump into the 2010 campaign. Through long time political affiliation; O'Brien, the millionaire businessman; and Baird, the perpetually angry federal politician have been friends for years. Locals will recall that Baird's name made the witness list at O'Brien's "influence peddling" trial a year ago. Since declared not guilty, he's been coy about re-offering for the 2010 election...at least until now.
Things though are different now: O'Brien's popularity is low; he still wears the mantle of his repeatedly failed "Zero Means Zero" tax promises of 2006; his transitional learning curve from businessman to politician has been long and excruciatingly costly for the City of Ottawa. Despite the now committed joint Federal/Provincial funding of $1.2 Billion for the LRT, ratepayers will be on the hook for another unfunded billion dollars. About $1000 for each resident of the city; and essentially the cost of the "damned" tunnel under downtown. Front-running candidate Watson says that's simply too expensive for the city to swallow.
Despite pledges of non-partisan municipal elections; like in a microcosm of Federal politics; the Grits and Tories are set to square-off in Ottawa's fall city council election over the same issue which divided the city four years ago. "Deja vue" all over again. Think I'll take the bus!