Three Years Later, Moving Along

Toronto Mayor David Miller. Photo by Rannie Turingan.

Those seeking thrill from Toronto’s municipal politics were, unfortunately, left disappointed by last Monday’s election. In a city that at times seems to be in love with the status quo, the re-election of incumbent mayor David Miller was hardly surprising, and the campaign seemed at times bereft of passion and new ideas.

That is a stark change from only a few years ago. There was something almost messianic about Miller’s 2003 mayoral bid in a city still reeling from SARS, post-amalgamation fiscal hell, and bad governance. What he brought was a palpable sense of beginning anew and making big plans. Within a year both the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario unveiled their starchitectural expansion plans, and urban issues became something they couldn’t have possibly been: hip—with the launching and subsequent success of Spacing magazine being perhaps the most telling sign of changing times.

To be sure, some of the campaign promises were promptly carried through: his first act as a mayor was cancelling the highly contentious bridge link to the Island Airport. Relationship with the city’s creative community also remained cordial, with Miller being a major proponent for a “creative city” and a regular attendee of “cool” parties.

But those enamored with Miller-the-visionary had good reasons to feel a little disenchanted.

On the more strategic issues, little headway seemed to have been made. The TTC still consistent underperforms and, despite a Ridership Growth Strategy, raised fares twice. The much touted “Clean and Beautiful City” initiative also seem to have produced little effect as far as the number of unsightly newspaper boxes were concerned. Most importantly, the city’s neglected waterfront saw little action in the past three years besides incremental and piecemeal improvements; a verdict has yet to be reached for the much-maligned Gardiner Expressway, even though experts warn that, as highrise condos more and more overshadow the area, precious time is running out.

Nobody however doubts Miller’s will power and commitment to the city, and most opinions agree that unless the federal and provincial governments take up their share of Toronto’s money problems and shed their collective antipathy, not much can be done. Thus when Miller’s main competitor Jane Pitfield boldly promised 50km of new subway construction, 250 new police officers and a garbage incinerator, all with local money, she was hardly taken seriously.

The tragedy of the situation is that, in the face of provincial antipathy and fiscal holes, Toronto seems to have comfortably settled into a culture of resignation, taking what it can get and renouncing the rest without complaint, to the point where when the Expo 2015 bid was killed because nobody was willing to pay for it, few even noticed.

Yet all is not lost. That surge of civic optimism with Miller’s election in 2006 may have ebbed but is far from dead. The arts and music scene are thriving, and are increasingly cross-pollinating with the city’s youth urban activism. Once-marginal organizations like Spacing magaizne and the Toronto Public Space Committee are just beginning to enter the spotlight. Architecture and design is all the buzz on university campuses and in local papers, and the city’s wondrous new cultural edifices (the just-opened opera house for example) all point to that heightened awareness.

Miller may be a “cautious mayor for a cautious city”, but frustrated ambitions aside, much is to be said for his part in ushering in a period in the city where one tangibly feels history been made and changes on the verge of happening. With the city’s first ever charter becoming effective next year, Miller will get more executive power and more room to act; much can still be done about the waterfront and the TTC. Torontonians maybe a resigned and at-times parochial bunch, but they are hardly pessimists.

This entry was written by Siqi Zhu , posted on Thursday November 16 2006at 10:11 pm , filed under Canada, Politics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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