Rocco Rossi

Rocco Rossi pokes fun at Smitherman and talks policy at the Board of Trade

Rocco Rossi delivered the second major speech of his campaign on Wednesday, in which he focused on the city's finances and gave new details about his plans for the TTC.

The speech was held in front of a sold out crowd as part of the VoteToronto2010 Speaker Series, organized by the Toronto Board of Trade.

The city's business elite filled the room, and warmly received Rossi after taking lunch. The noon hour event attracted almost 800 people, though reporters were scarce.

Wednesday's speech repeated many of the points he outlined at the Empire Club in January, such as restoring Toronto's fiscal stability, and improving transportation.

Rossi also couldn't resist taking a jab at his closest rival. "This was actually one of the last confirmed sightings of George," referring to Smitherman's speech to the Board of Trade in December. It has "become a Where's Waldo's stand on the issues campaign," he joked.

Smitherman has been comparatively quiet on policy matters. His interview with the Star on Wednesday, in which he endorsed outsourcing and privatization of some city services, was likely an attempt to outshine his rival's event.

Rossi's jokes, which were not printed in the official speech, were clearly an improvised reaction to the Star's interview. "I want to welcome the recent conversion of front runner George Smitherman to our way of thinking of this issue," he laughed.

Rossi pledged that the Toronto Board of Trade's report on city finances -- which predicts a $1.19 billion structural deficit by 2019 if no preventative steps are taken -- would "serve to drive next spring's budget" if he is elected.

The city's current path "leads only to higher taxes, bigger shortfalls, more debt and poorer services," Rossi said.

"Without multi-year budgeting there is no vision, there is no fact base, there is no courage or reason to make the tough calls. That must and will change," he said.

To improve the budget, he proposed limiting annual wage increases for city workers to three per cent. He also called for an immediate hiring freeze for all but essential service personnel, and repeated his pledge to sell off Toronto Hydro and privatize some city services.

He also spoke about the TTC and Transit City. In previous statements, Rossi has called for a pause on transit expansion until it is clear the city can afford to pay the operating costs.

"We all want to ride the wave of the province's renewed interest in transit. But we don't want to get swamped," he said on Wednesday.

"As mayor I would pursue negotiations on the future of the TTC with the province. I would be willing to put everything on the table for discussion" he said. "Perhaps they will involve a different governance model for the TTC, one that brings it into some sort of new partnership with Metrolinx" he continued.

While Rossi did not say which responsibilities should be transferred to the province, he noted that a complete upload is not an option.

"We can't just upload the whole thing" Rossi explained while speaking with reporters after his speech. "It takes two people to upload, because the uploadee has to be willing to accept it. And quite frankly, with the union contracts, I'm not sure that in the current circumstances that they would be prepared to do that."

Rossi is trying hard to get his message across. This is his second major speech in two months, in addition to numerous statements he has made in more informal settings.

And, all joking aside, he's not the only one who might confuse the campaign's front-runner with Waldo. Smitherman has kept a relatively low profile, and his interview with the Star on Wednesday was one of the only occasions he spoke on substantive policy in this campaign.

When calling Smitherman's campaign headquarters, his staff could not tell me when his next public appearance would be. "We'll get back to you," they said. Eventually they did, but two days later.

Apparently, Smitherman will appear at a series of "skating parties" throughout March break, but his staff made a point to tell me he will not be speaking publicly. Perhaps his relative quietness is a by-product of early polling scenarios that have him heavily favoured, but one would think he'll come out to "spar" sooner or later.

Writing by guest contributor Tomasz Bugajski. Photo by Amy Stupavsky.


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