Mayor David Miller's job will be on the line if he becomes chair of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. and doesn't start delivering on his promise of magic along the lakeshore. That's exactly how it should be, according to former mayor and longtime waterfront promoter David Crombie.
"If two years from now, things are not the way they're supposed to be, then all we have to say is, 'David Miller is at fault, period,'" advises the one-time federal Tory cabinet minister and founder of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust.
"The mayor is the only one the people of Toronto can hold accountable for the future of their waterfront. The buck stops with him."
Crombie spent considerable time over the course of the past year making this case to Miller.
"It's what I've been talking to him about since the first day he was elected," says the man who now presides over the Canadian Urban Institute but doesn't mind giving the city's progressive chief magistrate his advice whenever it's asked for.
He's clearly delighted that Miller has heeded his counsel, and hopes the mayor can quickly convince the provincial and federal governments that putting him in charge of the revitalization effort is the best way to go.
"If I were David Miller, I'd push the envelope even harder," Crombie says. "David should draw a line in the sand and say, 'Look, don't talk to me about the new deal for cities unless you're willing to go with this, because there's nothing more vital to us than doing something on our waterfront. '"
The renowned political fixer is quick to point out that the first steps toward turning the derelict port lands into an urban paradise were taken back in 1999 when then prime minister Jean Chrétien and former premier Mike Harris showed up to pledge $1 billion ($500 million each) for the cause. At the time, City Hall, Queen's Park and Ottawa all had their eye on the 2008 Olympics, and there was tripartite agreement on where and how the down payment should be spent.
But when the Olympic dream turned to dust, so did federal and provincial commitment to waterfront revitalization.
Says Crombie, "We've had five years now of people saying, 'It's not our fault, it's their fault; it's their responsibility, no, it's our responsibility.' We've had people freelancing in programs and policies from whatever level of government."
The only way he sees to change that situation is to put Miller in charge of the TWRC "to combine accountability and responsible power," so appointed waterfront agencies like the municipally mandated Toronto Economic Development Corp. (TEDCO), the federally controlled Toronto Port Authority (TPA) and the province's Ontario Realty Corp. (ORC) aren't in a state of constant friction with an unelected revitalization corporation.
"The city has a direct, clear responsibility (for the waterfront)," Crombie stresses. "If we give it up like they did at the early stage of the last century, we'll always have a problem."
The former mayor sees no reason for Miller to co-chair the TWRC with current chair Robert Fung or anyone else, for that matter.
"We need to attach responsibility to the only person elected to take it, and that's the mayor," Crombie says. "The principle is so powerful and so strong that it shouldn't be diluted.
"The mayor of Chicago is responsible for his city's waterfront. The same goes for the mayors of most other places except this town, which has been held ransom by the federal and provincial governments. Making the mayor chair of Toronto's Waterfront Revitalization Corp. would be the biggest thing they've done so far other than talk."
Crombie maintains making Miller chair is "the single most important contribution (the federal and provincial governments) could make to the 'new deal' right now - including the gas tax. This doesn't cost them a penny."
And Crombie is hopeful the folks in Ottawa and at Queen's Park will soon find some political will so the long delayed resurrection of Lake Ontario's shore can begin in earnest.
"A lot of things are ready to go," he says, pointing to re-naturalization at the mouth of the Don River and development of the West Don Lands and East Bayfront neighbourhoods, in the planning stages since the time of the Olympic bid.
"Hope was there when the mayor came in and it's still there," he says. "People still want to believe that David Miller can do it."