If you tally up the list of prominent politicians at all levels who staked their careers on advancing the so-called cities agenda, only one’s still in power – Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay, and he’s up to his faucets in a contract scandal.
Gone from office are the likes of John Godfrey (former Liberal infrastructure and cities minister), Glen Murray (Winnipeg), and Larry Campbell (Vancouver).
David Miller’s decision last week not to seek re-election sounds the death-knell for what was once an energized and influential urban coalition. The C-5, convened by the late Jane Jacobs, will soon become the see-nothing.
Not a big surprise, I suppose. The Harper Tories never had an appetite for the cities agenda, nor, by all indications, does Michael Ignatieff. Yes, there’s some progressive environment/urban policy coming from Gordon Campbell, a former Vancouver mayor, and also Dalton McGuinty, in Ontario.
But we no longer frame cities as an issue of national consequence, demanding national resolve. Jack Layton has moved on to other matters. Miller was the last real advocate in public office, and his voice will soon be gone.
It’s far too early to handicap the 2010 race, although my not-so-original guess is that it will be a showdown between John Tory on the centre-right and either George Smitherman or city councillor Shelley Carroll on the centre-left.
Current city councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong, Michael Thompson and Karen Stintz will all make candidate-type noises, but the fact is they stand no chance of raising serious money if Tory’s in. Pressure will be applied, ambitions brought to heel. It’s Tory’s to lose.
One dynamic is predictable: the leading candidates, both right and left, will trip over one another to distance themselves from Miller, and that disassociation will include the big city vision thing. The pendulum that swept him and McGuinty into office in 2003 is swinging back. The ballot question will be about who’s most persuasively a not-Miller.
You don’t have to be a genius to realize that Tory, and probably Smitherman, will promote themselves as tough-minded financial managers, of a media empire and sprawling ministries, respectively. Tory, I predict, will flirt with a tax freeze promise or, more likely, a vow to repeal the two new levies. The centre-left candidate, seeking to differentiate him or herself, will have to match the right’s ante.
Then there’s the question of what becomes a wedge issue: I’ve come to think of Jarvis Street as the right’s version of the island airport bridge, and anyone who pledges to rip up that plan (or the bike lane strategy) could have a symbolic wind at their back. Could someone run on a vow to ice Transit City? Not unthinkable.
It’s conceivable the 2010 election will degenerate into an orchestrated renunciation of the ideas that informed the cities agenda, which found political expression in Miller’s mayoralty. His record has its blemishes, to be sure, but I’m hoping Torontonians don’t end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.
photo by Bouke Salverda