He’s done this before, you know

A photo I took when we went through this ritual in mid-2008.


June 13, 2008.  A Friday.  I was covering City Hall for Eye Weekly at the time.

At 2:24 in the afternoon, the City put out a press release.  Seventeen minutes later, my editor forwarded it to me, asking if I had any idea what it was about:

Media Advisory: Mayor David Miller to make important announcement

Media are advised that Mayor David Miller will make an important announcement today.

Date: TODAY – Friday, June 13
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Mayor’s Protocol Lounge, 2nd Floor, City Hall, 100 Queen St. W.

Reasoning that it was either really good/important news (something so urgent they were announcing it late on a Friday afternoon) or really bad/embarrassing news (something so unfortunate they were announcing it late on a Friday afternoon), I decided that it was worth my time to schlep down to City Hall.  So did the rest of the media, who — along with a whole whack of curious councillors and political staffers — enthusiastically stuffed into Miller’s office much as they did today, to hear what course-altering proclamation the mayor had in store.

And then he spoke, announcing that Toronto Hydro had just sold off Onezone to Cogeco, and that the City would be putting its $75 million take from the sale toward addressing the backlog in repairs to public housing.  The collective, unspoken response of the assembled press: “Oh. That’s… good… news…”

Very few people who were reporting on City Hall back then are still doing so now.  Which is not to blame anyone’s relative inexperience for the hype of last night and this morning; the mayor and his squad knew exactly what they were doing, and pretty much everyone, regardless of their experience at the Hall, bought into it.

But I do attribute the reaction, at least partly, to limited memories. Instead of “Ah, damn, another one of these,” the sentiment today could better be described as “What. The. F—.”

Aside from the much-noted suggestion that “Live trucks should arrive well in advance to run cables,” the advisory for this morning’s press conference was virtually identical to the one put out on June 13, 2008.  Of course, it was also pretty similar to the release put out last September 25, but it wasn’t necessarily closer to that one than the other.

The City website archives all official news releases since amalgamation.  The teasing phrase “important announcement” had only been used in a title on four occasions prior to today: “Three levels of government to make an important announcement for the TTC’s 50th anniversary of the subway” (3/29/04) — $1 billion of transit funding; “Media Advisory: Mayor David Miller to make important announcement” (6/13/08) — the Onezone sale; “Media Advisory: Mayor David Miller and City Manager Shirley Hoy to make important announcement” (7/28/08) — Hoy’s departure and the mayor’s pick of Joe Pennachetti to replace her; and “Media Advisory – Mayor Miller is to make an important announcement” (9/25/09) — that he wouldn’t run again. While certainly all substantial and significant declarations, the media was really only batting one for four in terms of sexiness.  And despite anything that might be said by Kevin Sack — who is essentially the City’s publicist — both the word “important” and the phrase “important announcement” tend to be used rather liberally in the City’s press materials.

Though newer journos might be forgiven for thinking otherwise, not every  advisory heralds something apocalyptic.

The vast majority of Council business centres on budget numbers swirling around.  Sometimes those numbers are bigger than others, and sometimes city policy is of more consequence than city politics.


  1. How about digging up previous years ‘adjustments’, so we can compare?

  2. The press, who have pretty much given up all pretense of objectivity when it comes to politics*, are pissed off because they were ‘tricked’ into giving prominence to a good-news city finance story that didn’t fit their preferred narrative. Now they are desperately trying to spin a $100M surplus as “bad news”. Miller should have given them the finger as he left the room.

    *see, for example, Royson James on the front page of the Star

  3. I think what was “important” about this presser is less about the substance than the intriguing dynamic Miller has introduced into this election, about which more on Monday.

  4. Even more interesting was listening to George Smitherman dance and wiggle when asked, three times by two different reporters, if he would feel compelled to free TTC fare hikes, as per the mayor’s proposal. (Apparently not, it transpired.)

  5. The “free” in the foregoing comment should, of course, be “freeze”…

  6. I’m going to do something terribly uncharacteristic and suggest that the idea of pre-announcing a fare freeze is not good policy. The TTC (and Miller’s allies including me) keep telling the world that better service is the key to attracting and holding riders, and thereby improving the transit system’s role in our city. Fare freezes simply eat up money that could otherwise be put to better service.

    Moreover, a freeze that is coupled with an ask to Queen’s Park for $250 million in 2011 is really a stretch — give us more money so we won’t have to charge higher fares.

    The new Council will have to face issues about service quality policies and fare levels. It will be nice to have some money in our pocket as a starting point, but we should not prejudge how we will spend it, especially as it is a one-time windfall, not an ongoing revenue source.

  7. By declaring an intention to allocate money on a multi-year basis, something he was pleaded with to do during his term but has developed a new-found interest in, I can’t help but feel that Hizzoner is interfering in the process of selecting a new mayor in a way he would have found unacceptable in Mel Lastman’s case.

    This $100m is essentially found money – due to investments doing better than expected and better than anticipated results in valuation appeals. It is not recurring income.

  8. Leaving $75 million in a tax stabilization fund for next year is the least he can do after using hundreds of millions dollars of the now empty reserves for the same purpose.

  9. You’d think after the experience of the last TTC fare freeze in 2008 – which led directly to a twice as big as usual fare increase the next year (end of 2009) and resulted in a huge backlash against the TTC, not to mention the no-more-tokens mess – that they would avoid even thinking about freezes for the future. But I guess it’s really a bit of a live grenade tossed into the mayoral race to cause mischief – especially when it’s predicated on pigs flying (i.e the province dishing out big regular doses of transit money).

    I can understand Miller’s frustration that his success in wrestling the huge budget mess he inherited seven years ago almost to the ground is not appreciated, but it seems like this press conference has obscured rather than highlighted his accomplishment. A problem with communications which has, in fact, hounded him during his entire last term.

  10. Jonathan Goldsbie, as one of the journalists who “fell for” the lure of Miller’s important announcement press release, I take your point. But keep in mind some of your examples were not in an election year. And surely that changes the tone of what the announcement (with no subject line) could mean.

  11. The communications strategy announcing this $100m surplus or found money (or whatever you want to call it) seens intended to boost the fortunes of those candidates looking to further the Miller legacy. But if that was the intent, it failed miserably… Yeah, the coverage was huge… but the over-riding reaction from the media (and the public) is that they have, once again, been “played”. Yeah, the $100m is good news… but it’s also bad news in that it underlines why this Mayor has so little credibility on fiscal issues (whether with most Torontonians or the senior levels of government). Whether through incompetence or manipulativeness or both, the situation seems to swing wildly from one week to the next. Lastman was a clown — but Miller has managed to turn the budget process into “the drama of a lot of lashes”. I don’t like the talk about contracting out and privatization I’m hearing from Smitherman and Rossi. I think much of what they are seeing on these matters is foolish, short-sighted and dangerous to the public good. But I also think what they are saying has become much more palatable to the electorate because most people are plain fed up with what they see as the current Mayor’s shenanigans.

  12. Dylan,

    Just how can you say that Miller nearly fixed the budget mess? Are you serious? Despite an increase in provincial transfers of 500% and despite a near complete emptying of reserves the shortfall remains. Save for the smoke and mirrors of this years budget, the shortfall is higher than ever.

Comments are closed.