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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

JOHN LORINC: Waiting for the other shoe

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Power, as any poli-sci major will confirm, hates a vacuum, and the question at City Hall from now on is whether David Miller’s long (and hopefully graceful) goodbye will transform the mayor’s office into a negative pressure zone.

I don’t expect Miller to become a lame duck figure immediately. But the medium-term reality facing his office — and his core council supporters — is that the coming ten months will become a sustained exercise in issues management.

To those who think he’s going to spend his remaining time ramming through progressive but controversial measures (the Bloor/Danforth bike lane, congestion charges, etc.), enjoy the weather in fantasy-land because that kind of late-in-the-day activism isn’t going to happen, notwithstanding the fear-mongering from some of Miller’s more delusional critics.

Rather, the new normal of City Hall will be all about what becomes of those provisionally reliable middle-of-the-roaders — you know, the ones who will still be in office in January, 2011, and are now trying to figure out how to stay on the winning side of whomever turns out to be the next mayor. Remember, after all, that Joe Pantalone was considered to be a well-behaved Mel Lastman ally… until he wasn’t.

Gloria Lindsay Luby’s 8th inning defection last week from the executive (a.k.a. Politburo) committee is merely the most flagrant example of approaches to pre-emptive resumé cleansing.

I’m guessing the rug could begin to fray as Miller seeks to nail down the final implementation pieces of his agenda. Indeed, it’s an open question as to how the votes will split on potentially contentious agenda items. Know that everyone will be watching intently to see what happens if and when the Miller team fails to whip a vote. After all, once he’s lost that first one, the coalition of 27 or 28 councillors who backed Miller’s initiatives for most of the past six years may disappear forever.

Consider, for example, the committee agenda for this coming week. At today’s executive committee, we have the business of what becomes of the strike dividend. On Tuesday, at public works and infrastructure, there will be an item about the snail-like progress of the Bloor/Danforth bike lane. Wednesday’s planning and growth management committee will be considering a detailed set of policy guidelines for Toronto’s new green planning standards. Right there, three ticking hand grenades — about money, cycling infrastructure, and development green tape.

Committees, of course, don’t make the final decisions; that happens on the floor of council. But in the interregnums between committee sessions and council, Miller’s team may find itself with the grim task of deciding whom to throw overboard so that the rest may live.

Some of this will be about the mayor’s whips negotiating concessions (not a strong suit) that make these or future policy items politically palatable to the mushy middle. There will also, no doubt, be items that end up relegated to deferral hell, to be hauled back up at a more propitious moment. Anything, they’ll reckon, to avoid that first loss.

Lastly, there’s Miller’s own ambition. This isn’t just about The Legacy. While he’s fed up with being the boss, Miller is barely 50 and definitely doesn’t act like someone who’s got public life out of his system. He’s got a resume, too.

As we embark on this final chapter, I find myself thinking back to Jean Chretien’s third term. Coy, arrogant and vindictive to the end, Chretien had his fair share of simmering controversies to fend off. But he made damn sure that he alone would determine the arc of his own denouement. Miller, lacking Chretien’s sharp elbows and taste for power, has left it to others to write the ending for him.

photo by Rannie Turingan



  1. John:

    It’s a shame this otherwise good piece has the “Politburo” reference dropped into the middle of it. This quick-and-dirty implication that Toronto is run in a much more totalitarian way than it really is belongs more in the pages of the Sun.

    If the issue is that the Executive Committee is dysfunctional, or simply a rubber stamp, that’s a separate article. However, as everyone knows, Miller does not have the sort of iron control of City affairs that such a term implies. Thoughtful, balanced analysis doesn’t need this sort of throwaway.


  2. My tongue was planted firmly in my cheek (along with all the explanatory emoticons)…

  3. Nice to see that the concept of a Bloor/Danforth bikeway is making an appearance on the spacing wire commentariat – the most critical section in the wide part of Bloor in Yorkville was cited as the best spot for an east-west bike lane only 17 years ago, and the private paving party just doesn’t have room for it, even though Councillor Rae promised! we’d see Bloor bike lanes, and staff said there’d be lots of room AFTER it was all done. Not to worry about it moving ahead too quickly despite climate change and a grisly “death”, as the progressives are already doing a fine job of delay and analysis paralysis, though it seems like the best place in Southern Ontario to squeeze cars a bit. The City, and that means progressives, is clearly in its priorities for the Yorkville segment – it’s about making room for car doors to swing open without harm if a car stops in front of a new planter. There’s a full .8m which would give us enough space for bike lanes since the 14m curb-to-curb space as is now built only needs one more meter to provide bike lanes.
    I guess we need another fatality, or near-fatality, and it’s kinda too bad dead men can’t sue the City for contributory negligence.

  4. Don’t expect any cycling progress, Miller spent his political capital on them already and they haven’t been appreciative of his efforts – only crying that not enough has been done.
    Wait til they get a glimpse of the future with Tory, Smitherman or Stintz.

  5. Here in regressive Calgary there are 600 km of trails and bike lanes. Granted its easier in a city with tonnes of parkland and many rivers and creeks (and wider roads) but still as a former Torontonian I am constantly disappointed at what that city isn’t doing. No pedestrianized streets (like 8th Ave in Calgary), few bike lanes – its sad that the centre of the oil industry is beating Toronto on this front. Miller was the best hope we had , but he fell victim to the “war on cars” people and did little that we will remember him by.