The supposed bridge builders at the Toronto Port Authority should give their heads a good shake and pay attention to what Jane Armstrong, senior vice-president of Environics Research, had to say about David Miller's surging mayoral campaign this week. "It seems to me that he's in step with the direction the public is going," Armstrong said to explain Miller's dramatic move into first place. And according to the pollster, the key to the Ward 13 (Parkdale-High Park) councillor's leap ahead of one-time front-runner Barbara Hall and John Tory is his opposition to the controversial bridge to be built between Bathurst and the Toronto Island Airport.
"It has branded him as the kind of guy who can use City Hall to preserve quality of life for Toronto residents,' Armstrong said.
But Lisa Raitt, the Port Authority's harbourmaster and CEO, mocked Miller for having the audacity to think he might be able to halt construction of the bridge if he's elected mayor, warning that the city would be sued for more than $100 million in lost revenue if he tries to reverse the decision council made earlier this year.
Raitt accused Miller of using "untruths and distortion to drive a wedge" between the TPA and the public - a curious charge from an organization that last year twisted its own Pollara poll results beyond belief to show council that 75 per cent of Torontonians support a bridge to an expanded Island Airport.
"The more Toronto residents know about the airport and plans for its enhancement, the more they express their approval and support," the TPA's Henry Pankratz said 12 months ago.
The claim was bogus then and it's clearly bogus now, given the results of independent surveys of public opinion. And it's also obvious, given Miller's growing strength in those polls, that the public isn't being scared off his message by threats of hugely expensive lawsuits.
Miller is more convinced than ever that he can unfix the fixed link and all that goes with it. "I think it's very straightforward," he says. "If the next mayor is elected on a platform of stopping the bridge, the first thing to do is to call a council meeting to get that position endorsed by council."
Miller realizes he was in a minority of 11 councillors who voted against the fixed link. But he notes that the only reason many of his colleagues supported the project was because they were strong-armed into it by the departing Lastman and his agents.
"I know I can get the votes at council," Miller says. And his resolve will not be undermined by attacks from the TPA, airline entrepreneur Bob Deluce or Barbara Hall.
"They're desperate, and they'll say anything to scare people," Miller argues, "but the public isn't falling for it."
He's buoyed by recent comments by federal Transport Minister David Collenette - the TPA's political overseer - that indicate Ottawa is paying close attention to the current mayoral debate over the airport bridge and will give serious consideration to the election result. Collenette recently told reporters, "If for some reason city council changes its position" on the fixed link, "the federal government will honestly be very sensitive to that."
Why wouldn't it be, when the Liberals will be going to the voters here for a new mandate of their own early next year? But even if the feds weren't talking sensibly, Miller figures he's on solid ground both politically and legally. And he speaks with some authority as the councillor who three years ago found the loophole that put the boot to the city's controversial agreement with a private sector consortium to haul Toronto's garbage north to Kirkland Lake for disposal in what's still the pristine northern lake called the Adams Mine.
Miller sees parallels between the mine and the airport issues. For starters, the Port Authority still needs a number of federal approvals before it can go ahead with the fixed link.
"I think they've got huge problems with their environmental assessment," Miller says. "They've done no assessment of whether the tens of thousands of planes Bob Deluce wants to run out of the airport over the course of a year are going to have an environmental impact on air quality, noise quality and water quality."
Never mind the Port Authority's musings about legal action. "I believe their environmental assessment may not comply with the law," Miller warns. But he sees another "bigger and more important parallel" between the 2000 garbage disposal debate and the battle now raging over expansion of the Island Airport.
"People get that this is another case of favouring private interests over the public interest, and they know that if somebody is prepared to sell out Toronto's downtown neighbourhood, they'll sell out their neighbourhood, too, when push comes to shove."
Judging by the growing level of Miller's public support, people are ready to start shoving back. The Toronto Port Authority and its single-minded supporters would be well advised to take note.