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Commentary: A Grudging Endorsement for Miller

Crossposted to Spacing Votes

It is safe to say that the bloom is off of mayor David Miller’s rose. Elected into office with broom in hand, he rode a wave of high expectations and, dare we say it, optimism that the factious days of Mike Harris, Ernie Eves and Mel Lastman were over. Sadly, Miller did not live up to those expectations. City Council remains an almost dysfunctional institution, and the promised improvements to public transit are hard to notice by passengers squeezed choc-a-bloc aboard the TTC’s beleaguered buses, streetcars and subways.

Had Miller encountered a stronger opponent for mayor this time around, such as his previous opponent John Tory, he might well be in a fight for his political life. But Miller’s current opponents, Stephen LeDrew and Jane Pitfield, have not given him serious competition, and democracy in Toronto is worse off for it.

I give Jane Pitfield credit for stepping forward and making a race of things, forcing Miller to defend his term in office, and to articulate his vision for the future. I also appreciate that public transit has come to the fore in this election campaign, what with the controversy over the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way and the proposal to extend the subway to York University.

But while I appreciate Ms. Pitfield’s enthusiasm for new subway development, I fear that her plans are not realistic. Her price tag for building two kilometres of subway each year is millions of dollars short of reality, adds at least $400 million to the city’s annual capital costs and there’s no serious plan on where the money will come from. Moreover, her plan only offers hope for improved public transit for the residents of northwest Etobicoke and northeast Scarborough sometime after 2030.

And I strongly oppose her short-sighted and politically opportunistic promise to cancel the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way project west of Bathurst. While the project has had its problems, it remains a good idea that many in the community support. Cancelling the project, now that a segment has been built smacks of exactly the sort of half-assed planning that has brought this city to its knees.

David Miller’s public transit plan is not fancy, but it will work, for all of the residents of Toronto, not just those lucky enough to live and work close to the York University subway extension. It has been a struggle to implement, but improvements have occurred, and are more likely to occur than with Pitfield’s subway plan.

David Miller has learned a few things from his overly optimistic rush to power. The broom he carried into City Hall proved to be much too small to clean up the mess there. His current campaign is much wiser, acknowledging Toronto’s problems, but pointing out that the city is on the right track and moving forward. A lot of work still has to be done to fix the damage done during the bad old days of the 1990s, but it’s getting done.

David Miller at least gets the importance of public transit in Toronto. He may not have been able to implement the improvements that should have taken place since 2003, but he is working towards those improvements in politically pragmatic fashion. And while the Toronto electorate needs to keep an eye on him for the next term, and hope for a strong challenger in 2010, Miller deserves another four years to try and bring his vision for the city about.

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