Like many, including T.O.'s pols, I'm on holiday with my family when Sunrise Propane blows. Heading back into town later that day, all the while scanning the car radio dial for any syllable of information, we finally stumble on an interview with David Miller.
It's a conference call with reporters from Vancouver, where, the radio interviewer explains, the mayor is on vacation. Fair enough, I guess.
As I veer off the 401 onto Highway 2 to duck the traffic snarl heading into the city, I'm expecting the mayor to tell reporters he raced to the airport the minute he heard about the explosion and demanded a seat on the next available flight home.
What he says, however, in his almost aloof syntax, is that he's returning to Toronto on an "early flight." WTF? Early afternoon? Early morning, after a good night's sleep and a jog around Stanley Park?
Wow. I'm thinking 12,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. Can you give us at least a bit of urgency in your voice? The good news is that he does return quickly. The bad is that he leaves quickly, too, back to his holiday. Very bad.
You know, I hated the Mel Lastman buffoon years, but I think Miller and crew have dined out on the Bad Boy long enough. What Lastman and all other pols with longevity grasp is that when the chips are down, people demand emphathy from their leaders and self-sacrificing efforts for the collective good.
Instead, Miller leaves town before not one, but two important community meetings, the lead-up to which is so laden with partisan bad blood that Councillor Maria Augimeri will likely be in the bleachers after next election. We needed the mayor to rise above the twisted nerves and tease out what's best for all of us.
My guess is that Miller, understanding the minutiae of the city bureaucracy the way few others do, knows that in times of crisis there are systems in place and professionals to implement them. As soon as he's certain these are operating properly and the crisis is in capable hands, he feels safe leaving. That's his vantage point.
Problem is, most Torontonians don't see things from his vantage point. There is an expectation - hell, it's politics 101 - that leaders should speak up for, weep for and celebrate with those who never will look down from inside the ivory tower.
And when one of their ranks, in this case a firefighter, dies on the job, you go to the funeral. You don't have to say anything, but you're there to embody the city's collective sorrow.
That David Miller is a bright guy no one, not even his most fiercely partisan opponents, could deny. Maybe it's too much to ask that a mayor be able to duke it out in the bureaucratic backrooms and also get up with the people and sing a jaunty number in the barrooms.
You can learn to be a good manager or political jouster, but the common touch - now, that is a gift this mayor has yet to receive.