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LORINC: Interrupting This Announcement

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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



  1. “…Pantalone hasn’t got the clout or the gumption to persuade Miller and Giambrone to get out of his way…”

    Nah, clout and gumption are things he has. I just think it hasn’t occurred to him to ask them to move out of his way.

  2. I’m frustrated every time I hear Miller announce “Transit City is our plan to get Toronto moving by bringing reliable rapid transit…”, because it’s his plan (that he’s failed to get most Torontonians excited about) and whatever it is, it isn’t rapid. It immediately reminds me of how Miller can be so impervious to public opinion and so inflexible with his proposals, and that doesn’t do much for his graceful exit either.

    As for Joe Pantalone, he’s always struck me as the quintessential backroom operator, so coming out of the shadows to take on a leadership role may not come naturally.

  3. The question of putting ones money where their mouth is is better directed at Mayor Miller et al. As former Mayor John Sewell said…….

    “If these light rail transit lines are so critical to the health of the city, why don’t the crybabies on city council fund them with increased residential property tax? Why don’t they take the mid-point for property taxes in the GTA, raising them so every homeowner pays $500 more a year than in the draft budget? That would pour about $400 million this year into these transit lines.

    If you want the lowest taxes in the GTA then you can’t afford all the transit improvements you want. If you want more transit, then maybe you can’t have the lowest taxes. Which is it for the crybabies? ”

    It appears that Toronto only believes in Transit when somebody else is paying of it.

  4. A bigger problem is that Transit City isn’t resonating with the public, and that includes the transit-riding public.

  5. Hmm. I had wondered if maybe Miller was going as hard as he is because it is his last chance, but also because he has nothing to lose.

    It’s true, Pantalone hasn’t given us much to think about, but considering he isn’t the front runner in this campaign, he can’t afford to take the same leaps Miller can.

    Or maybe what Pantalone needs is a leap – in either case, I don’t think it is Miller’s responsibility to quit with 6 months left in his term. Instead it is Panatalone’s responsibility to step up.

  6. Nah, clout and gumption are things he has. I just think it hasn’t occurred to him to ask them to move out of his way.


    I’m generally longing for a bit more from Pantalone. His website is kind of uninspiring, and he mostly appears in the press as an aside within a Miller/Ford/Smitherman article.

  7. I believe for both Miller and Giambrone this is about a legacy.

    Transit city is a different and very specific kind of transport that Miller can show 10 years from now as an example of how is tenure accomplished things long after we’ve forgotten about labour relations or whatnot. If it was subway expansion or more buses, he wouldn’t have gotten any credit the same way nobody gets credit for the Sheppard line. The $10B price tag for Transit City could have built a lot of subway, but no it’s gotta be streetcar right of way. Then he goes on about how long it takes to start building subway, but they can start digging Eglinton’s underground LRT quickly. It’s all kind of ironic to me, as both Transit City and the budget “surplus” deal with somebody else doing the hard work of ponying up cash. Conversely, one could argue that by attaching his name to it, he caused it to be more easily be chopped down since he was politically damaged after last summer’s strike.

    It’s the same with smart cards and Giambrone. He’s trying to cram in a decent accomplishment so if he ever comes back into politics, he can remind us of what he accomplished, not failed at. But he ignored one of the most frustrating and glaring parts of the TTC’s stagnant thinking – lack of a modern ticketing system – despite the fact that everybody wanted it. Again, it was all about money that somebody else had to pony up (and his $400M cost is BS), but nobody saying this has to be done overnight.

    Last minute legacy work is something most politicos do though, so I’m just shrugging it off.

  8. Thanks for writing this, John.

    I agree with you that Miller should have handed over the mic and not done the PSAs, but for vastly different reasons.

    For me, this is the breach of public space with a very politically-charged message. I did not support the atheist bus ads, I did not support the “thank yous” to Dalton McGuinty last year for funding Transit City, but broadcasting a political attack ad and disguising it as a PSA over an intercom in a publicly-owned institution is an all new low.

    I’m surprised that Spacing hasn’t jumped all over that, seeing that this is another form of ad creep, and a particularly insidious one at that.

  9. Transit City is not just Miller’s plan. It was adopted by the TTC, the Premier, City Council and the Government of Ontario.

    In fact, the Government of Ontario set up Metrolinx to give it expert advice on transit in the GTA and Metrolinx included all of Transit City in its plan, the Big Move.

    Now the Star is reporting 78% support for Transit City.

    If this isn’t enough of a consensus to allow the government to proceed I don’t know what is.

    Don’t be fooled. It’s not that Mcguinty doesn’t support Transit City, it’s that he doesn’t support transit period.

  10. While I appreciate your article, John, I think I hold a different perspective. You and other journalists who write on municipal politics are pushing to make the campaign a long campaign. Aside from a minority (such as Spacing’s readers), not many people are tuned into the election yet.
    That’s conjecture on my part, but the poll everyone’s been talking about showed 50-ish% are undecided… likely because they haven’t given it much thought yet and/or they know things will be different come election day.
    And the election is still a long way off: Miller is still mayor until Dec 1st – over 7 months away! I think Miller and current councillors have every right to continue to act as mayor and councillors.

  11. If Miller wanted to cement his transit legacy, he needed to stay on and fight for another term.

    Giambrone is clearly incompetent–why is he pushing a plan that conflicts with the Presto Card?

    Everyone can see there’s something rotten at the ttc, from government to management through to the workers, manifested in stagnancy, unreliability and filth.

    What’s needed is a transit Hercules to turn the hose on these stables, but I don’t see any contenders on the horizon.

  12. Mark,

    David Miller, for the record, held his first campaign meet-and-greet in the summer of 2002 (I was there), well over a year before the election. More generally, these are long campaigns, because the stakes are very high, and because the official registration date is so early. I didn’t create that dynamic. Yes, my colleagues and I are already covering the race, but that’s because the candidates are already in full campaign mode, and it would be irresponsible of me, as a municipal affairs journalist, not to report on those developments.


  13. To Goldsbie: Why would a leader “ask”? I think that Joe Pantalone has to make the paradigm shift in his mind and realize he is running for Mayor, not Deputy Mayor. For David Miller this is an opportunity to shape the narrative of his last term in office as the combative advocate for Toronto and Transit City. Joe “Pants” needs to get his elbows up and turn on his MOJO if he wants to be relevant on this issue.

  14. Criticism of the Ontario Government’s bait and switch regarding Transit funding is well warranted. I don’t understand why, when Miller wont even be around as mayor, he’s protecting “his legacy” by speaking out on this issue. This has been an area of neglect for years and progress could and would be made if the agreed to plan is implemented FULLY.

    Rewind to the Mike Harris. Politics drastically eroded transit in Ontario after he came into power. He viewed any Transit expansion Bob Rae’s NDP implemented as some of the first targets to cut. GO Transit service and ridership were decimated as a result. After millions were spent on new stations and they were were practically mothballed by cutting service to rush hour only angering and alienating new users. Some of whom went back to driving and never went back down the transit route.

    Miller’s is being vocal to preserve a plan that, yes had some “Miller stamp” on it, but also recoup the time, energy and dollars from other sources that have already been spent. Worse this was supposed to be a done deal. The Feds bailed on the 4 Billion but McGuinty had said he was in support. The only lack in leadership seems to be from nearly all of the mayoral candidates that appear to be mute on this issue.

    Getting politicians to think big involves risk. We are destined to mediocre results if we expect investments to realize their value in a single term of office. We are doomed to disaster if we continue to waste taxpayers money on projects that are never realized.

  15. hasn’t Miller been vilified enough by old and new media alike in this city? is it really worth qualifying the subway’s PA system as “tinny”? what were you expecting, Avery Fisher Hall? Is Miller’s message about transit support not in fact well worth disseminating? This last sentence is not a question.

  16. @RG Actually Giambrone’s “competing” system of allowing us to pay fares quickly via credit cards isn’t a bad idea so long as it complements PRESTO. Out of towners and occasional users would have the same convenience as a smart card without the hassles of figuring it all out. (There, I said something nice about Giambrone, proving that I’m not completely one sided 😛 )

    But it’s too little, too late. He should have been coming up with this and moving with it the morning after he became TTC chair. They should have been changing the fare structure. The TTC’s current flat rate focuses to much on commuters and not on users in general. There’s cleanliness, broken escalators, inefficient use of labour, etc. After the most “passionate” TTC chair in living memory we’ve seen very little change at all – even when it didn’t come down to much money.

    Miller had the choice last summer. He had the choice between giving into over-priviledged labour or all the projects he wanted to see implemented. His choice resulted in the situation we’re in now. He lost the support of much of the creative class, which formed half of his support. People who voted for him before (like me) turned our heads in disgust after that. There’s a reason the right wing is defining the election.

  17. Miller’s had two terms. Has any ground been turned for any new subway or LRT construction. Just wondering, cuz with all the many photo ops I really don’t know anymore.

  18. What a strange idea: the outgoing mayor should “exit gracefully” and be effectively silent, more than six month before the end of his term, since he otherwise gets in the way of the electoral process and disturbs a journalistic narrative?

    And the comment that Miller “had the choice between giving into over-privileged labour or all the projects he wanted to see implemented”: do you really think he could have extinguished by fiat long-established retirement agreements without provoking even more labour disruption, just to satisfy the current view that unions benefit from excessively good labour conditions?

    Look, the gap between Toronto’s policy reform reality and its reform rhetoric or desires has always yawned a mile wide: how can it be otherwise after the municipal policy confusions of the 90’s, after disinvestment in cities, in housing, in environmental initiatives (the list goes on and on…), in the face of continual population increase; after a poorly implemented municipal amalgamation (it more or less works in the short-term, it’s the long-term that worries me) and a mayor that did not seem to have a clue about long-term city finances; federal and provincial levels of government that are still caught in some kind of 19th cent. time-warp of 19th cent. municipal governance ideas? Does anybody really believe that a city of Toronto’s size can be financed & administered at the pleasure of, and with tax transfers from, other levels of government and a simple property tax? Look elsewhere in the world for an answer.

    It’s to Miller’s credit, surely, that he tried to create a momentum for some long-term thinking and action while attempting to deal with immediate issues–sure, not consistently, and certainly with doubtful choices along the way.

    At this very early stage in the mayoral campaign, have any of the declared candidates shown that the understand the issues to an equal degree?

    Miller should keep talking.

  19. I’m confused. When did everyone lose faith in Transit City? I’d like a labeled timeline.

  20. John,
    I agree with what you’re saying with regard to covering the race, but you (and many) seem to be suggesting that Miller should be doing less mayoral things in the last months of his term. But what if the ‘save Transit City’ campaign is successful, or even results in some form of provincial funding?
    In any case, I have a sense that the municipal election is high on the minds of relatively few, and those few are much more aware of who the candidates are, where they stand, what they promise, etc. And I think these few are ‘jumping the gun’ a bit. Consider the ease in summing the candidates so far: Rossi is against bike lanes and will sell public assets, Thompson wants subways and Smitherman hasn’t said anything (neither has Patalone). The only one ‘alive’ is Ford, and hence the interest.

  21. “Has any ground been turned for any new subway or LRT construction”

    Utility relocation has begun on the Spadina extension and construction has started on the temporary road needed to built a new bridge over the railway for the Sheppard LRT.

  22. do you really think he could have extinguished by fiat long-established retirement agreements without provoking even more labour disruption

    Yes; their contract was up. He could have contracted out any service somebody else was willing to do cheaper. It’s how a market is supposed to work and you and I do it every day. Virtually all the suburban governments did just that. If Miller did it, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

  23. How terrible of David Miller to have the nerve to fight for transit city! Shocking that he should want to fight for something he believes in, and which is in the best interest of the population.

    Give me a break. I think it is great that he took over the TTC announcements. Good for him. He has been criticised for not fighting hard enough over the years. I think he’s tried to be diplomatic, and this is where it has gotten him. The province doesn’t give a crap. They will announce some new funding as soon as Smitherman is elected which will allow him to take all the credit. It is pure politics. I hope we see more of David Miller with guns blazing. Go out with a bang and stick it to them.

  24. “It appears that Toronto only believes in Transit when somebody else is paying of it.”

    This is the tactic Hazel Mayor-for-Life McCallion has used since the 70s, and look what they have for rapid transit – nothing. The transit system in Mississauga is extremely long & tiresome to ride off-peak. I rode it for years. Rush hour express buses helped alot, but if you rode off-peak it took HOURS to get anywhere.

    Hazel mooches off everything she can off other governments so she doesn’t have to spend money.

    Toronto City Council’s been doing this for decades now as well, hence we have half-built transit lines like Sheppard (originally designed to go to Scarborough Town Centre), and the 510 Spadina line that was built in 2 long drawn out phases, Harbourfront then Spadina.

    Miller has a bold vision – Transit City – which will help many of the city’s poorer residents get around, as well as improve all 416ers quality of life. I don’t see any of the mayorial candidates supporting it – cept Pants once he chooses to go public.

    Unfortunatley Transit City’s mired with teh perception of the St Clair line. I’ve ridden the new line & it’s much better than the mess it was sometimes. HOwever as suggested by some other posts, the TTC needs a real housecleaning top to bottom. Systematically the TTC just doesn’t have the right priorities. CBC Radio 1 this morning had a customer service expert (NOT on TTC’s panel) pointing out the numerous problems w/ the Commission.

  25. You know who deserves snarky columns about the destruction of transit city? Dalton McGuinty. I’m sorry John, but this piece is a lazy pile-on. Why don’t you try to escape the narrative your journalistic brethren are busy creating and instead target the people who are actually responsible for the problem?

  26. Christopher H. seems to be confusing a collective agreeminet with work on contract when he writes:

    “Yes; their contract was up. He could have contracted out any service somebody else was willing to do cheaper. It’s how a market is supposed to work and you and I do it every day.”

    Those workers remain full-time employees of the city even though their collactive agreement was up. Yes, the city could let them go, but it doesn’t matter whether there’s a collective agrement or not — the cost will be the same. Given labour law and time of service, we’re talking up to a year’s severance for each worker. Plus increased hard-line demands from the other bargaining units. Good luck with that.

  27. @Ed My mistake, but other cities did it. And if we don’t do it now, then when? We just continue to let them dictate terms of their own employment and continue to increase their already over market salaries at a much higher rate than inflation? If other bargaining units get more hard line, then the city should do the same. If they never went on strike, they wouldn’t have been in the position. They did it to themselves.

  28. Long Brach Mike,

    The point Mr. Sewell is making is that Toronto cannot have its cake and eat it too. Toronto has the tax ‘room’ to fund transit if it values it accordingly. Mississauga residents already face a higher tax burden than Toronto. Nearly double the amount if one looks at it from the perspective of % of municipal spending. Toronto residents pay less than $2 billion per year in property taxes, on a budget that is 9.2 billion. The police budget alone is roughly 1 billion.

  29. Christopher: you’ve obviously never looked at the operating budget of the city or any other cities. In Toronto, salaries make up about 14-16% of the cost to run the city. And the costs of contracting out have never shown savings (ie. Etobicoke garbage service): the employees get less but the contracted company gets more. Its the same bottom line. And most of those private services are unionized too so they are susceptible to strikes.

    And while suburban cities contract out I don’t think any of them offer the same kind of complex services as Toronto does. And if you look at their property taxes they are paying much more and receiving a lot less.

  30. @Moses I’ve actually been going through the budget of the city since amalgamation in a side project I’ve been doing. It’s extremely difficult to cost out as items get moved, merged, etc every year. Both Miller and Lastman (or at least their budget chiefs) did everything they could to hide where money was flowing to/from.

    Salaries make up a lot more than 14-16%. Accounting items for some departments include salaries (the police, TTC, and community housing for example), but aren’t reflected in the administrative salaries that are the high level running of the city.

    And you’re wrong on contracting, but of course it matters how they contract out. If it’s competitively tendered, profits won’t just shift to the company but they’ll be squeezed until only one company is left. Now if they place minimum worker wage rates, etc then they’re not going to save any money.

    Suburban cities have higher property taxes on residential properties. They’ve kept business taxes low to entice businesses to locate there. Toronto just taxes the businesses higher and it’s the reason why job creation has been a fraction the size that it has been in 905 over the past decade.

  31. If running the city gets in the way of election campaigns, that means we need shorter election campaigns. It’s ridiculous that this extended process is ongoing, when national campaigns are run in weeks.

  32. Mark: Yeah, national campaigns are run in weeks, but you won’t find too many people who think those campaigns are models of effective democracy/elections.

    But I agree these municipal campaigns are much too long. On the flip side though, it’s great for the candidates who are not incumbents — it gives them some decent time to establish themselves in the public’s mind.

  33. I think it’s too early to say whether the announcement will affect the Mayoral race (and there’s no reason it can’t actually help Pantalone), but I’m not sure why a strong centre-left Mayor with a clear mandate should consider pandering to a supposed “right-wing backlash,” especially one that’s been largely created and puffed up by the press for their own ends. Or did Toronto suddenly become a conservative enclave that hates transit?

    For the moment, Miller is just doing his job, rather than choosing to believe that he is indeed somehow a “lame duck” Mayor. Good for him.

  34. And really, it doesn’t make sense to fund huge transit projects with property taxes. The city does have unexploited tax room, but there are more sensible priorities that money should go toward if someone actually did find the stones to bump up property taxes (something which that “right wing backlash” would seem to make impossible, though, isn’t it?)

    The province agreed to Transit City funding, and is now testing us to see if they can weasel out. Why is this, or the fact that no one seems to be upset, Miller’s fault? Why is Smitherman getting a free ride here?

  35. “Utility relocation has begun on the Spadina extension and construction has started on the temporary road needed to built a new bridge over the railway for the Sheppard LRT.”

    Another decade lost. Sad.

  36. Just a thought, but let’s see what Metrolinx has planned next month before we start spraying bullets…

  37. Just a thought, but why don’t we face reality and recognize this era for what it has been – a no-build one? Has one new station been built? Has one kilometer of new subway track been laid? Even that clown Lastman managed to get a few clicks of however ill-advised subway built in North York. Who knows, we might be grateful for that in 20 years if it becomes well-used.

    Believe me. Nothing would make me happier than to be corrected. Maybe there has been some expansion that failed to reach my attention. I despair.

  38. On the topic of election length, it’s important to point our that municipal elections don’t have (official) parties, and that effects the need for longer campaign periods.

    Political parties are allowed to raise funds and promote their leaders and platforms in-between elections. So a ‘short’ campaign period, doesn’t mean that they aren’t always campaigning.

    Municipally, candidates are only allowed to raise money after they have nominated, which only happens after nominations open. I think a short municipal election period would make it harder for new candidates.

    Also keep in mind that the election campaign is not in full swing until the fall. For example, no lawn signs are allowed to go up until Sept.