David Miller is marking the first anniversary of his election as Toronto mayor by trying to breathe new life into the campaign pledge that played such a huge role in his winning the job: rejuvenation of the city's moribund waterfront. "I just cannot let it sit any more," Miller says of the initiative that caught the electorate's imagination last fall. "Although we had immediate success stopping the bridge to the Island Airport, not enough has happened since. It has to happen now. It's too important for the future of Toronto."
With the support of a 26-page staff report delivered to councillors from urban development services Wednesday, November 10, the mayor is aiming to become head of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp.
As chair of an organization taking conflicting cues from three different levels of government, Miller figures he can give the appointed agency the clout it badly needs to push forward its stalled plans for a massive cleanup of the city's port lands.
"The waterfront needs a political champion, and that champion has to be the mayor of Toronto," he says. "One of the reasons I haven't been able to make things move faster is because elected representatives aren't on the corporation, and I'm not there. Unless the corporation has adequate powers to implement its vision, we'll still be talking 20 years from now."
Just last month, the TWRC released a report calling on its political masters in the municipal, provincial and federal administrations to finally give it both the power and the money to start the work it was created to do five years ago.
But while the city and Queen's Park responded positively to the document, the federal minister responsible for Toronto, Joe Volpe, was less than impressed - especially with a recommendation that elected officials be allowed to sit on the corporation's board.
Miller says this is the only way the TWRC can work, and it's high time the Liberal MP for Eglinton-Lawrence reconsiders his position.
"It's quite clear what needs to happen," the mayor says. "We're the biggest landlord down there and it's our waterfront. So, if we're going to give the revitalization corporation extra powers, the people of Toronto deserve to have that corporation be accountable. We need the mayor and other elected officials there to make it both accountable and transparent."
So what becomes of Robert Fung, the entrepreneur who now chairs the TWRC?
"I'm quite prepared to be co-chair with a private-sector chair if the other partners think that's appropriate," Miller continues, adding that it would be "outstanding" if politicians from Ottawa and Queen's Park also sat on the board.
"You want private-sector people there, people with expertise in business and planning and the environment and labour," the mayor maintains. "But if we have one politician from the federal government, one from the province and one or two from the city working together on a project this important, it's going to lay the groundwork for a great partnership that benefits Toronto in other areas as well."
But first the proposed Governance Structure For Toronto Waterfront Revitalization has to get the nod from council's policy and finance committee before it can go to council for approval later this month.
Then there are the other levels of government to deal with, and all those government agencies, boards, commissions and corporations that have a stake in the port lands.
According to the urban development services report, the Toronto Port Authority, the Toronto Economic Development Corp. and the Ontario Realty Corp. would have to sign agreements with the TWRC to ensure that their development plans are compatible with the "revitalization initiative." The city would have final planning authority.
Miller says that if the federal and provincial governments get behind the city's governance proposal, "there's money now to get a shovel in the ground next year on a number of things."
Two new waterfront neighbourhoods - East Bayfront and West Don Lands - are in the advanced planning stage and could be welcoming both residents and businesses within five years.
And then there are the public spaces like Lake Ontario Park that will join Cherry Beach to Ashbridges Bay, and the "renaturalization" at the mouth of the Don River to provide a natural gateway to the Don in the heart of the city.
"We need to start moving," the mayor says. "My view is that the water's edge has to be for the people. In some places it should be parks and in others it can be very urban, but it needs to be for the people."
Hopefully, he'll have something more to show them this time next year.