It will have taken him almost a year to get it, but Mayor David Miller will soon have his coveted position on the board of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp.
"Sometime in the fall" is when sources close to the TWRC scene say the chief magistrate will take his seat at the boardroom table.
Just a seat, mind you. Miller will not chair the board's meetings, as he first proposed last November in an effort to pump some gas into the stalled lakeshore initiative. "I just cannot let it sit any more," a clearly frustrated Miller said then of his bid for leadership of the group mandated by the federal and provincial governments as well as the folks at City Hall.
"The waterfront needs a political champion, and that champion has to be the mayor of Toronto."
Then nothing just kept right on happening. And Miller started to take even more heat for not giving the waterfront file higher-priority treatment in his office.
It's interesting to note that the mayor's impending investiture at the TWRC sandcastle should dovetail very nicely with the coming on board of his new senior adviser on waterfront renewal. Leslie Woo, an architect and planner by profession, starts her one-year appointment to Miller's staff on September 6. And it certainly doesn't hurt the mayor's cause at Queen's Park that, prior to accepting the city post, Woo had a close working relationship with David Caplan, the minister of public infrastructure renewal, in her capacity as director of growth, policy and planning at the Ontario Growth Secretariat.
Her appointment at City Hall (call it a loan) no doubt gave Caplan the confidence to push his Liberal cousins in Ottawa (who long ago guided financier Robert Fung into the TWRC chair) to at least agree to give Miller a spot on the board. It will be up to Caplan to prepare the legislation necessary to make it happen.
For the longest time, Joe Volpe, the federal minister with responsibility for Toronto, wouldn't hear of a politician having a vote on waterfront corporation matters, never mind giving T.O.'s skipper an opportunity to direct its course. All that stuff Miller said about non-politicos lacking adequate powers to implement whatever the current waterfront vision may be? Pure bunk.
But these days, Volpe and his mates (the very same ones who keep the useless Toronto Port Authority afloat so it can mine the harbour with bureaucratic obstacles) are increasingly aware that they're in a minority government situation.
With a federal election looming early in the new year, the last thing they're going to want to hear come fall is the mayor of Toronto bellyaching about how Prime Minister Paul Martin's crew (more than a few local MPs included) has let the city's unfulfilled waterfront dream run aground once again. If giving Miller a seat on the TWRC's board will turn the volume down a bit, let him have it.
Better for the mayor to take half of what he wants than to risk getting nothing in terms of clout at the corporation. And with Woo on his office payroll, Miller can say it's no longer so critical that he be at the head of the table.
Woo, who has considerable past work experience at the Waterfront Regeneration Trust and as director of design and planning for Toronto's failed bid for the 2008 Olympics, should hit the ground running. And she'll have the ear of both the mayor and the provincial minister with political responsibility for what happens along Lake Ontario.
Is it only a coincidence that Woo's contract ends just as the 2006 municipal election campaign begins? No way. There's no question that Miller is counting on the waterfront having more than just a higher profile by then. He wants results he can show the electorate, evidence that some tangible progress (not just stacks of planning reports) has actually been made during his first three years in office.
That's why, sources suggest, Miller will be pushing for projects that "visibly enhance the public realm." That means upgraded parks, boardwalks, piers and plazas between Exhibition Place and Cherry Street. These improvements can happen faster and at less cost than the West Donlands and East Bayfront neighbourhoods, which are about to get underway but will take years to reach fruition.
And it sure won't hurt if some of the public-realm enhancements can be seen from the Gardiner Expressway in the months leading up to the civic vote on November 13, 2006. They'll do more to charm the cynical voter than a highway's worth of billboards promoting "Miller for Mayor."
Shelley Carroll's crusade to have feral cats trapped, fixed and released back into the urban jungle is just a first step in her campaign to bring the city's entire animal population under control. Once the stray felines are in check, the councillor for Ward 33 (Don Valley East) has visions of a "tranquilize, fix and release" program that will "control wildlife populations that are driving us all nuts." You know, critters like raccoons and skunks that are becoming more and more of a nuisance in neighbourhoods all over town. "Raccoons are causing thousands of dollars in damage to roofs," Carroll says of the complaints she's been hearing from constituents. "If we're going to intensify (urban development), we're going to have to deal with our growing animal population. And people would like to see us do this without wholesale slaughter."
But first the councillor has to convince the board of health to spend the money on the feral cat program that, she says, has worked wonders in other cities around the world. "Unfortunately, when it comes to budget time, this program keeps getting dropped for other priorities," Carroll laments. But she says public health is expecting an increase in provincial funding next year, and the time is right "to look at things we should be doing."
Rumour has it the association of raccoons and skunks is already looking for a lobbyist.