Coming-out Party

Rating: NNNNNit's only february 2002, and bar-bara Hall has already been caught in the first big lie of the much-anticipated.

Rating: NNNNN

it’s only february 2002, and bar-bara Hall has already been caught in the first big lie of the much-anticipated 2003 Toronto mayoral campaign.”I’ve not yet made my decision about running for mayor,” Hall told the more than 500 supporters who turned out for her aptly labelled “reunion rally” Sunday afternoon.

Don’t let her kid you, folks. She has her mind made up.

It might not have been a certainty when the sun came up over Cabbagetown Sunday morning that Hall would again seek the job she lost to the now-embattled Mel Lastman nearly five years ago. But once she arrived at the downtown YMCA to share coffee and baked goods with an adoring throng of well-wishers, the mental die was indelibly cast.

“There are more of you than we expected,” an obviously overjoyed Hall enthused when she finally took centre stage after more than an hour of working the crowd with her new, improved smile amidst much hugging and shaking of hands.

Indeed, rally organizers had their fingers crossed for a turnout of perhaps 200 people once word was put out that anything less would signify a colossal flop. The few patrons could spend some time waxing nostalgic about what once was and what might have been. And the last chief magistrate the pre-amalgamation city of Toronto had ever had could tearfully resign herself to being a footnote in the municipal history books.

But 30 minutes into the gig, there were suddenly fears that the supply of cookies and fudge bars would run out, and dutiful helpers were dispatched to search for reinforcements. The worry subsided somewhat when it was noted that more people were lined up to volunteer for a phantom election campaign than for a quick sucrose-and-caffeine fix.

If anyone had any doubts about Hall’s true intentions, they were swept aside when she stepped in front of a backdrop creatively constructed from multiple printings of her personal Web site address and launched into a mini-state-of-the-city address.

“Where’s the vision? Where’s the direction?” Hall asked. “We need a plan of action and the sense that people can make it happen.”

She talked about a Toronto “stalled and slipping into decline.”

“I hear people laughing at our city,” Hall lamented in reference to all the buffoonery that has emanated from City Hall in recent years.

“We need competence at City Hall,” she declared to prolonged applause.

The scandal now engulfing the civic administration has eroded the public’s trust in local government and “affects our ability to get the respect and support we deserve from senior levels of government,” Hall argued.

“We have a responsibility to restore public trust,” she maintained. It’s time someone with a reservoir of real energy “brought people together again and dared to do things differently.”

Nope, in spite of the banter about “Stability with purpose” being the favoured slogan for the comeback attempt, Barbara Hall isn’t running for anything. That’s why local Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett (St. Paul’s) was on hand. That’s why two Grit MPPs from the city (Scarborough-Rouge River’s Alvin Curling and Toronto Centre-Rosedale’s George Smitherman) were at the Y to sing her praises. And that’s also why five members of city council (Maria Augimeri, Pam McConnell, Kyle Rae, Mario Silva and Michael Walker) risked the Wrath of Mel and wandered over to Grosvenor Street to clap and shout encouragement to a former colleague. In 1994, Hall kicked off her successful underdog campaign for the old Toronto mayoralty at the same health and fitness facility.

Some Toronto pols less inclined to ruffle feathers (especially those of the NDP persuasion) sent staff to mingle with the diverse gathering of seniors, students, artists, community activists, blue-collar workers and captains of commerce. Jack Layton was not in attendance, and neither was Olivia Chow.

Kyle Rae, a long-time Hall ally, was impressed with what he heard and saw. “There’s a groundswell of support for Barbara in the community that goes well beyond just the old city of Toronto,” he offered. “If she’s running, I’m there. (Hall) hasn’t been at City Hall these past four years, and that’s a good thing,’ the councillor for Ward 27 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) mused.

Not so quick, countered David Miller, the councillor from Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park). In the past year, the 43-year-old lawyer — who didn’t attend on Sunday — has emerged as another potential champion for voters inhabiting the middle-left of city politics. One of the secondary objectives of Hall’s get-together was to impress upon the younger upstart the supposed futility of competing for those same electoral affections.

But Miller was unfazed by it all.

“Some very profound changes have happened here in the last five years,” he advised later in the week. “The megacity is a completely different place than the former municipalities and Metro.”

Of course, the inference is that Hall has lost touch with what’s really going on at 100 Queen West. While she’s been busy cozying up to her Liberal bosses in Ottawa, Miller, a true New Democrat, has been toiling away on behalf of Toronto taxpayers. After all, somebody’s got to get to the root of all the municipal mismanagement to which Hall can only make second-hand references in her speeches.

“I’ll be judged by what I do,” Miller maintained as members of council’s budget committee listened to public deputations concerning the sorry state of Toronto’s finances.

“What’s happening today is a charade,” Miller claimed. “This is only being done so we can say we listened to people. What’s sad is, municipal government used to be a place where people were listened to. It’s not like that now. We have to make it a place once again where people can bring about meaningful change.”

And the best person to do that job is someone with an insider’s knowledge of what’s been going on, he said.

“I’m thinking about running for mayor because people are approaching me every day and asking me about it,” Miller said. “I really think it’s time for some fundamental change here. With the right leadership, we can accomplish a tremendous amount.”

Those are not the words of a man looking to back off. Which is why Toronto politics are going to get all the more intriguing in the months ahead. You’ve got my word on it.

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