Farewell Mayor Miller

Mayor David Miller

One of the best pearls of Twitter wisdom crossed my desk a few minuets ago when Twitter member LarryLarry posted the following:

Eventually, history will remember David Miller as a great mayor, especially when the next mayor screws up the next strike.

Truthfully, I think history will eventually remember Toronto mayor David Miller as a good mayor, who failed to live up to the promises that surrounded his election, but who still did his best. Emerging from well back of a packed field, elevated during a council meeting by a dressing down from the previous mayor Mel Lastman that highlighted the dysfunctional nature of Toronto City Hall, he brought a broom with him to the stage as he claimed victory. And in that moment, he promised voters with images rather than words that he would clean up city hall, end the squabbling, the back room deals, and just make the city work as it had done years before.

Unfortunately, the structure of the city proved too big of a beast to slay. Toronto had run out of developable land, and was confined to a financial structure that guaranteed fiscal shortfalls. A third to a half of the city’s budget spending was controlled by Queen’s Park, and when Mayor Miller took office, he was — like Mel Lastman — just another voice on council, and one that only voted to break a tie.

Miller’s detractors have had much to say about his shortfalls: that he couldn’t control spending, that he was in the pockets of the unions, et cetera. The month long garbage strike provided the symbolic moment that his haters needed to crystalize the vague anger of Torontonians into something solid that could be wielded as a weapon against him. But I believe that any other candidate for mayor, if they had been elected in 2003, would have found themselves in the same fiscal position that Miller found himself in earlier this year — and that includes John Tory. Indeed, a lesser candidate might not have made the gains that Miller made.

Toronto City Council is now governed by an Executive Committee, which strengthens the mayor’s leadership and makes city council meetings more productive. Thanks to Miller’s campaigning, the provincial Liberals passed the City of Toronto act, giving the City powers to control more of its own fiscal picture, and also whether or not to hold the bars open longer for special events. And under Miller’s leadership, the TTC embarked on significant service improvements, such that this year the TTC will carry 473 million passengers, breaking all previous records. Money has flowed and work is finally beginning on subway extensions and an LRT network, and attention has been paid to improving the maintenance and expansion of transit infrastructure.

I worry about whether Toronto will maintain its commitment to improving the quality of public transit in the city, but I’m comforted in the fact that McGuinty has also made this a priority. Also, front running candidates like John Tory and George Smitherman have either acknowledged the desperate need to rehabilitate and expand the TTC’s aging infrastructure, or have helped commit the province to funding said infrastructure.

With Miller gone, the field is wide open for the mayoralty race taking place through 2010, and that’s good for the city’s democracy. Of the front runners in the field, George Smitherman and John Tory are both good men with big ideas, and both should be good mayors if elected. Personally, my own preference is for John Tory, for as hard working as Smitherman has been in the McGuinty government, he’d be shifting gears from a job where he was the boss (as the head of a super ministry) to a job where consensus and conciliation is far more important. John Tory, as the former leader of a provincial political party, strikes me as having far more experience in herding cats, and that’s perhaps the most important skill in being mayor.

Whatever the case, I thank mayor Miller for making substantial improvements to the make-up of Toronto since his election in 2003. He leaves the post with the city still facing considerable challenges, but he has an exciting field of potential successors to take the city into the next decade. The future of Toronto has become a lot more interesting, but there’s still plenty of hope. And Miller deserves credit for helping to keep that hope alive.

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