Miller's legacy

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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Mayor David Miller - no Christmas card for CUPE this year? Photo: National Post

Didn’t see that one coming. Thursday. David Miller to make an announcement. Friday morning. David Miller announces that he will not run for re-election in 2010.

Battered and bruised by this summer’s civic strike, it’s possible that Miller saw his chances of sitting in the big chair for a third term as slim. But those who underestimate Miller, do so foolishly, as evidenced in his come-from-behind victory in 2003 (2006 was a bit of a cakewalk – his major opponent, Jane Pitfield, was a policy lightweight and ran a sloppy campaign). Perhaps he could have made another strong bid next November.

Miller, in a sometimes tearful press conference, underscored his need to spend more time with his wife and two young children. Usually, when a politician says he wants to be with his family, it’s because his career is flagging. Maybe Miller worries about a political loss next year, or maybe, and I happen to believe this, he really does want to be with his wife and kids.

From personal experience, I’ve seen how hard a political life can be on family. And for me, my daughter is more important than any job, any boss, any career. If I don’t get killed instantly, or perish in my sleep, and I am waiting to expire on my death bed (to be subsequently turned into Soylent Green), my thoughts will be about my children and my wife; it won’t be about wishing I had spent more time at the office. So yes, I can empathize with Miller.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I like Miller. I have always thought he was a good mayor and that he did more to prepare Toronto for the 21st century than that self-aggrandizing buffoon Mel Lastman. One need only look at Miller’s record, and if you’re a progressive (and even if you’re not), Miller has accomplished much in six years.

An advocate for public transit, his ambitious Transit City plan will link the city through light rail rapid transit. He also secured (with no help at all from the feds) new streetcars to replace an ageing and sagging fleet.

On the environmental front, Miller implemented the 5-cent plastic bag fee, mandatory green roofs on new builds, banned water bottles in civic centres, added more bike lanes (although well short of the 700 kilometers promised), and a waste diversion program, that while it has a few kinks, is aiming to reduce Toronto’s landfill waste.

With the broom he wielded in 2003, a symbol for cleaning up TO, Miller created the first municipal lobbyist registry in Canada, the first integrity commissioner, and made Toronto the second city to have an ombudsman (I know those on the right like to stress accountable government, so I presume they also applaud these measures).

Although opponents like to tar Miller with an anti-business brush, he established Build Toronto and Invest Toronto that “capitalize on the city’s real estate assets and attract new investment and create jobs”. Miller even froze fees charged to developers.

Miller gained new powers for the city with the City of Toronto Act and added two new progressive tax measures. 

For those who said he was an ineffective mayor or didn’t do enough, I suspect that these comments stem from opposition to Miller himself and his ideological positions; that is, those commentators felt that Miller didn’t do enough for them. And in some cases, they are probably right. But no mayor can be everything to everybody.

Progressives are left searching for a new champion.

The right and centre is getting crowded, all with possibly-maybe mayoral candidates: John Tory, George Smitherman, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Karen Stintz and, oddly, Jane Pitfield (slight return).

John Tory has been given a plum position to “connect” with voters: his very own radio show. Tory, host of a Sunday evening gabfest, will be the new host for the CFRB 1010 afternoon commute show, where he will command the airwaves for three hours while 905 drivers idle on the DVP.  

George Smitherman, who may have irked his boss, Premier Dalton McGuinty, with these mayoral diversions, could be out of cabinet by Thanksgiving. At least he'll have time to organize his municipal campaign.

Stintz and Minnan-Wong both have municipal experience (the latter far more extensive than the former), but are farther to the right than Smitherman and Tory. I can imagine both would be social program slayers – exactly what a diverse and populous city like Toronto doesn’t need.

The left might urge on Adam Giambrone. At 32, the TTC chair may be seen as too young but he’s experienced and extraordinarily intelligent.

But no one is confirmed. And one can hope that the right side of the equation is so burgeoning with candidates that a candidate on the left can stand out.

Miller will be missed. But what should be most concerning to all progressives is what will happen to our city if environmental initiatives are dismantled, social programs gutted, public transit left to rust, unsustainable development runs rampant, the voices of citizens silenced, and the streets turned over to the almighty automobile.

This is what we should be focused on in 2010. Until then, David Miller, thank you for giving us seven years of your life.

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