When news broke last week of David Miller’s unprecedented move to take his Transit City funding fight to the TTC’s tinny public address system, I found myself thinking, “Why can’t the mayor just stop talking?”
I write this with considerable regret. In the dying days of the Lastman regime and for a good portion of Miller’s own tenure, I found his voice to be a refreshing contrast to both the ignorance of his predecessor and much of what passes for political rhetoric in the city. He spoke knowledgably about urban issues, answered questions directly, and conveyed a real passion for the city.
But as his mayoralty winds down, Miller’s unwillingness to leave well enough alone has become increasingly difficult to comprehend, especially given the mounting evidence of a significant right-of-centre voter backlash.
That tick became apparent last month with the camped-up revelation about that $100 million surplus. Now, the mayor’s almost certainly futile campaign to persuade Dalton McGuinty to reverse the decision to delay $4 billion in transit funding has the makings of a scorched earth strategy that may backfire on the left.
The mayor of the city certainly has an obligation to represent the city’s interests to other orders of government. Indeed, if the funding cuts had happened last fall, such a campaign would be absolutely in order. But the circumstances are different right now because the 2010 mayoral race is already in full swing.
McGuinty’s Liberals have shown they’re willing to exploit the political uncertainty during the waning months of the Miller era. Yet they’ve also presented Joe Pantalone with the gift of a crisp ballot question: Does this provincial government, for all its environmental rhetoric, believe in transit for Toronto or not?
For some reason, however, the incumbent is refusing to give the sole pro-Transit City candidate the space to run with the ball. Instead, the funding fight is all about David Miller (doing an unconvincing Danny Williams imitation) calling out Dalton McGuinty. It’s his voice on the PA system, his op-ed in NOW, his interviews with the broadcast media, his lapel button.
Pantalone’s job, it seems, is to go along for the ride, and make the right noises if anyone happens to ask his opinion, which, given the present dynamic, is unlikely.
Surely there was a savvier way to handle this fight.
First, it would be extremely useful for voters to know if Pantalone and his team could actually marshal the forces to lead a broad-based Transit City fight.
Second, Pantalone needs to give voters a preview of his own leadership style, as well as his approach to dealing with Queen’s Park on contentious issues.
Third, a Pantalone-led transit battle could provide centre-left voters with a focal point in the face of the growing support for Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign.
But none of this can happen until Miller stops campaigning.
And not just Miller. The soon-to-be-former councilor Adam Giambrone is also diligently sucking oxygen out of the Pantalone campaign with his 11th hour bid to convince Torontonians that the TTC is thinking about smart fare cards.
Everyone understands that this council fumbled this file. Giambrone’s stagey attempt to demonstrate that the TTC is finally considering these changes merely serves to rob Pantalone of an opportunity to critique the current regime from a progressive vantage point. With a bit of stage management, Pantalone could own the fare card issue if only Giambrone had the good grace to stop talking about it. But like his mentor, he, too, appears unwilling to go quietly into that long political night.
I guess another way to look at all this is to conclude that Pantalone hasn’t got the clout or the gumption to persuade Miller and Giambrone to get out of his way, in which case we may now know all that we need to know about Joe.
Either way, I still come back to the same place: I just wish the mayor would hand over the microphone and exit gracefully, while he’s still got a chance.
photo by Miles Storey