“Part of what I’ve come to understand is that the next generation is making fundamentally different choices than I made.”
In a scrum following her talk at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on Tuesday (May 7), a reporter said to Karen Stintz, "That was the most campaign-style speech I've ever seen you give outside of an election campaign. Is this a warning shot?"
The chair of the TTC very much denied it, saying she'd been invited to give a speech about the need for new revenue tools to build transit and that she feels "very strongly that we need to move forward in that direction."
We're 17 months away from the 2014 municipal election.
Fifteen months before the 2010 municipal election - on July 7, 2009, - Stintz spoke to the Economic Club of Canada.
At the time, the National Post described her speech as ‘‘campaign-style'' and reported that she avoided any questions about a plan to run for mayor. "I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about a new leadership and a new direction that we need," she said.
It's not unusual for politics to be repetitive. A system with fixed terms of office means that things almost necessarily play out in cycles.
More unusual, however, is for a participant to be so thoroughly churned by those cycles that she emerges from the wash a different colour than when she went in.
For much of the David Miller era, Karen Stintz was the anti- Miller. All surface and frequently serving as opposition-for-opposition's-sake, she was like a Rob Ford to whom you wanted to give the benefit of the doubt. She carved out a particular position for herself as the standard-bearer for council's conservative flank and eventually led a coalition of right-leaning councillors that branded itself the Responsible Government Group.
In that July 09 speech, she declared that "the last three years of city council has been focused on bags, bottles and bicycles instead of the real needs of the city" (a line later adopted by Tim Hudak). In the same speech, the Post reported, she "decried new charges such as garbage fees, a land transfer tax and a car tax."
Stretching the definition of "we," she said on Tuesday: "People work hard for their money, and I know they resent governments that treat them as a never-ending supply of funds. We know that. We learned that lesson when we tried to implement the Vehicle Registration Tax. We learned it the hard way. But I'm here to tell you that a lack of trust in government and elected officials does not justify doing nothing."
I'm a strong believer in positive reinforcement, in welcoming steps toward correcting past wrongs. But it's tough for me to pretend that Stintz didn't spend years as one of the key figures nurturing the precise kind of anti-tax sentiment so hardheadedly embodied by Ford.
She now rails against that mindset with the same passion with which she earlier railed against Miller. "Toronto," she says, "desperately needs leaders who can unite and not divide Torontonians - leaders who engage in city-building, knowing that there is a cost."
It's perfectly possible for a person to be both to the right of David Miller and to the left of Rob Ford. And it's also possible for a person's thinking to evolve and become more nuanced over time. There are any number of respectable narrative arcs through which one could frame The Karen Stintz Story.
But when I directly ask her what has caused this change in approach, the answer is disappointing. She says that back when the Land Transfer Tax and Vehicle Registration Tax were being debated, "it was my belief we hadn't done enough due diligence to get the budget in order. So we've done that work at the city now, under the leadership of Mayor Rob Ford, and so now I think we are in a position to really think about the kinds of new investments we want to take on."
If she is talking about public perception of the city's finances, she most certainly has a point. Any number of pundits have observed that Ford's fruitless quest for gravy has put the lie to the popular notion of abundant municipal waste. (And that his quest for free subways has put the lie to the notion of free subways.)
But if she is speaking literally, Stintz is either extending excessive credit to Ford or admitting that her own understanding of the situation used to be nearly as shallow as his.
Or maybe she really is just campaigning for mayor, yet again. In June 2009, a month before her "bags, bottles and bicycles" speech, the Globe revealed that she'd already begun forming a team to explore a possible mayoral bid.
The perpetual liminality of Stintz's ambitions adds an extra layer of stickiness to everything she does and makes it easier to dismiss her, even when she has a point.
But I want to believe she's doing the right things for the right reasons. She has a talent for inspiring a measure of trust, even if it hasn't been fully earned.
"Part of what I've come to understand is that the next generation is making fundamentally different choices than the ones I made," she explained in her Tuesday address. "They want different things. They want a vibrant downtown. They want to be able to get to work and home again without a car. They want to rely on transit. They're making different choices. And we have an obligation to build that city for the future."
In his 2006 bid for re-election, David Miller found himself running against then-councillor Jane Pitfield, whose platform hinged on allegations of municipal bloat. Just ahead of their first debate, he was asked by the media what the race's "central issue" would be.
"This election," he said, "is about how we build the city for the future."