David Miller's stunning victory Monday night has reinvigorated Toronto, ushering in an exciting era of political hope and untainted urban progress. And as if on cue, the next prime minister of Canada, already sworn to favour cities, arrives in town to take the helm of the federal Liberal party. What delicious timing! And what a brilliant opportunity for Paul Martin to show he's serious when he talks about paying attention to the urban agenda. All he has to do is step up to the microphone at the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night and tell the multitude assembled for his coronation that his government understands that local voters have given their new chief magistrate a powerful mandate to overturn a previous council decision approving construction of a bridge to the Toronto Island Airport.
Martin can go on to say that the people have spoken and his government realizes citizens want a truly revitalized waterfront, not a fixed link to a money-losing landing strip. He can show his sensitive side with an emotional declaration that his Liberal government will not allow its appointed agency - the Toronto Airport Authority - to continue threatening huge lawsuits if the new council tries to thwart its plans for an expanded airport.
Martin can put the issue to rest for good and send regional airline proponent Robert Deluce looking for somewhere else to locate his risky business.
"If that happened, it would be great," mayor-elect Miller says. "The people of Toronto spoke out overwhelmingly against a bridge, so I think it would look good on the federal government to say, 'They've voted and now we're going to stop our agency from pushing an agenda where it's unwelcome.' Such a statement would send a real signal that Ottawa is listening.'
Speaking of symbolic gestures, the first person to call Miller with congratulations Monday night after he was declared winner in the city's most crucial mayoral election in more than three decades was none other than Martin.
Miller says the bridge didn't come up during their friendly conversation. "We talked more generally about city-building and the urban agenda," the new mayor notes. But the two political leaders also discussed "getting together" once both have been sworn in to their respective offices.
"This is a huge step," Miller says of the planned meeting. And there is a chance the two men could rendezvous here over the weekend for an informal discussion about the direction the new mayor wants to lead the city in over the course of the next three years.
Even the slightest hint that a Martin government will be sympathetic to public opinion on the airport bridge would be welcomed by Miller. For starters, it would make it much easier for him to gather the votes he needs to quickly fulfill the bridge-stopping election pledge that set him apart from the other major candidates.
Secondly, a prime ministerial show of support for the election's outcome would go a long way toward zipping the lips of TPA mouthpieces like CEO Lisa Raitt, who along with Deluce keep trying to whip up public fear of huge lawsuits if the newly elected council tries to reverse the pro-bridge decision made last June.
But even without an early sign of solidarity from Martin, the new mayor is convinced he has the allies he needs to withdraw approval for the fixed link as early as council's inaugural meeting December 1. That would be a simple majority of 23 votes - 11 more than he rallied five months ago, when construction was approved by a 28-12 vote.
Fortunately for Miller, almost a third of the new council wasn't around for that decision. And with former mayor Mel Lastman and his henchmen out of the way, some pols who backed the bridge then appear ready to withdraw their support.
Councillor Howard Moscoe has already indicated that he plans to switch sides on the issue. So, too, might councillor Maria Augimeri, who like Moscoe originally voted in favour of the bridge because it was supposed to mean construction jobs for the unionists who supported her. Councillor Brian Ashton, a vocal supporter of Miller's mayoral quest, is also wavering on the issue.
So is councillor Raymond Cho - another Miller backer. Even former deputy mayor Case Ootes is reported to be having second thoughts about the project. Toss in the anti-bridge votes of council newcomers like Shelley Carroll, Gay Cowbourne, Janet Davis, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Paula Fletcher, Adam Giambrone, Cliff Jenkins, Bill Saundercook, Michael Thompson and Sylvia Watson and it's conceivable there could be as many councillors voting against the bridge now as there were supporters back in June.
"With a little bit of work, I think I can get my way," Miller says confidently. And the mayor-elect figures he'll be able to forge similar coalitions in the months ahead as he endeavours to define his administration.
"My agenda is about open government, neighbourhoods and city building," Miller says. "The people who have been elected are those kinds of people. I see this council as a huge opportunity to move forward."
We'll see. What happens on the bridge issue could very well set the tone for what lies ahead for the mayor and his council in the new year, when they'll have to start dealing with an operating budget shortfall that could exceed $300 million.
"It's a problem, but we'll find a way to deal with it," Miller says.
Hopefully, Paul Martin is listening.