If anyone were thinking they might like to be the next mayor of Toronto, there's scarcely been a better time to start planning an attack.
The current mayor, David Miller, is in trouble.
Indeed, as the summer city workers' strike of '09 winds to a probable close, Miller has never been weaker.
He's steered Toronto through a strike that lasted nearly six weeks, effectively shutting down the city for everyone from homeowners seeking building permits to children looking to enjoy a summer recreation program. And his promised outcome at the end of the ordeal - that the city would rid itself of a cumbersome and antiquated sick leave bank, and hold the line on union salary increases to help the city get through a punishing recession - never materialized.
As much as Miller tried to pitch the five new tentative agreements as a win for the city this week, the details that emerged have shown it to be anything but.
Miller tried to claim the sick bank, which lets employees accumulate 18 sick days a year and then take a payout based on any they haven't used, was eliminated.
It was not. Employees with more than a decade at the city will be able to keep the sick bank and if they stay healthy, retire out with six months extra salary.
Thirty years from now, it will be gone. But not until then.
The salary package, meanwhile, sees a total compensation increase of 5.6 per cent over three years, with 1.75 per cent this year and two per cent next year. In most years, you'd call those modest pay increases. But, this year Miller and council set the bar at a very austere zero in 2009 and one per cent in 2010, when they set non-union compensation at that level.
And Miller made, repeatedly, a powerful argument for that restraint: Toronto is going to be hit hard with growing social assistance costs as the recession takes its toll. The next two years at least will require austerity.
The public bought that argument. The public understood it was important to deal with the sick bank. When on July 10 Miller unveiled the city's then-bargaining position, public reaction was supportive.
Armed with widespread support, and facing two unions who had not managed to muster anything like that, it seemed as though the city couldn't lose.
Yet all it took, in the end, was a threat by the smaller of the two unions, CUPE Local 416, to walk away from the bargaining table if a deal wasn't reached on the weekend.
And the result?
When Mark Ferguson, CUPE 416's president, said the city had removed all its concession demands from the table, he wasn't exaggerating. If there are any gains the city made in the short term, they are hidden in the shadow of those losses.
Now, there may be good reason for capitulation. Miller maintained if the workers had been legislated back - a slim possibility now, but one he worried might expand along with H1N1 nervousness - the city would have done worse in arbitration. Better to come up with some kind of a negotiated phase-out now, rather than be saddled with a complete loss from a provincial arbitrator.
That's all speculative, though. The stark facts are the city endured a strike that ate up half a summer in service of stated bargaining goals. The city failed to achieve those goals.
The mayor wears that failure with just over a year to go before the serious part of the 2010 mayoralty campaign starts.
Not an enviable position.