Years from now, David Miller will be remembered for his broadest brush strokes. Transit funding, waterfront revitalization and the land transfer tax among them. These may well be the most important accomplishments for Toronto under Miller but what made Toronto a better place to live during his tenure were the finer brush strokes.
Many – I’d even go so far as to say most – decisions a mayor makes are to some degree or another reactionary. For example, no matter who was mayor, Toronto was going to need a solution for its garbage. Miller’s choice was in deciding what the new plan would be. While Toronto’s new mayor is eager to look into incineration, Miller was more comfortable with purchasing a landfill. Either way, a decision had to be made because doing nothing wasn’t an option. Those are the broad strokes.
The fine strokes of a mayoralty are about how a mayor chooses to spend their time and which initiatives, causes and people she or he elevates by choice.
Miller had a soft spot for the Toronto Public Library. He made it to as many events as he possibly could and when he spoke everyone present could feel his passion and sincerity. One of the former mayor’s favourite lines about Toronto’s libraries was, to paraphrase, “our libraries are where people from around the world become Torontonian.” Miller’s mother was a teacher-librarian and he immigrated to Canada in his youth so the values of the library system is imprinted on Miller’s DNA.
Spacing also benefited greatly from Miller’s attention. From the start of his first term when he donned Spacing’s subway buttons, Miller was a big booster of the movement to celebrate and advocate for Toronto’s public spaces. While his schedule didn’t allow for him to attend every launch party, Miller attended many, which inspired other politicians and the mainstream media, among many others, to mingle with Spacing readers and writers, and take careful note of what is in the magazine.
Though municipal government doesn’t have the power to enact all of the environmental legislation Miller would have liked, he threw his weight behind the NGOs doing the work he prized most. Not Far From The Tree’s mandate of social and environmental justice fit Miller’s personal ethos as well as any organization could. So in one of his final acts as mayor, Miller gave permission to NFFTT to pick fruit on city-owned trees, which will allow NFFTT to prevent the waste of fruit on our city’s trees and instead send it to local meal programs.
Even though Miller disappointed parts of his base of support at times with initiatives like the P3 for street furniture or the painfully slow rate of bike plan implementation, it was through the finer strokes that he remained connected to the people and communities that supported him, and built relationships with people across all political lines (think of his support for Toronto FC).
While we know what many of Rob Ford’s broad strokes will feature, what we don’t know yet is which initiatives, causes and people we will find in the short strokes of his mayoralty. The arts may be a beneficiary. Or maybe not. It’s still too early to tell.
Photo by Rannie Turingan