Talking to mayor David Miller about the impending federal election, you get the distinct impression he really wouldn't mind if the next national vote landed a minority government in Ottawa. "If it were a minority, it would certainly mean Toronto's voice would be very strong," Miller muses. There's not a hint of mischief in his voice despite the fact that his federal NDP kin under the leadership of long-time colleague Jack Layton are best poised to hold the balance of power if such a political equation were to be written on the ballots of electors coast to coast.
"I have a job as mayor of Toronto to advocate for the city, and I have to do it with whoever is in government," Miller says. "That's what I was elected to do, so from that perspective I can't be partisan in the sense of saying to all Torontonians: 'Vote for the NDP. '"
But that doesn't mean he won't bestow his considerable blessing - an Environics Research poll published this week says 82 per cent of Torontonians approve of the way Miller is handling his job as mayor - on "a small handful of candidates I may well support as individuals."
Miller points out that he's endorsing Future Bakery owner Borys Wrzesnewkyj's Liberal candidacy in Etobicoke Centre. "He has, I think, a great vision of what cities can be," the mayor declares. Besides, Miller knows the NDP doesn't have a hope in hell of winning the seat that ministerial veteran Allan Rock is vacating.
"What I'm going to be doing is speaking up about issues that face the city," Miller says. "And those are issues that Jack Layton and Olivia Chow, for example, have a great track record on. They're real leaders."
Nice segue. Such a testimonial won't look half-bad in the campaign brochures soon to be distributed in the inner-city ridings being contested by Layton and his city councillor spouse, Olivia Chow. Just as Chow's endorsement didn't hurt Miller when he was running for mayor last fall. Her Trinity-Spadina ward gave him more votes than any other in the city.
Likewise, Miller proved quite popular at the polls in the Toronto-Danforth ward Layton once represented at City Hall and hopes to soon represent in the House of Commons. All he has to do now is unseat mercurial Liberal incumbent Dennis Mills. And that task might be made just a little easier with a pat on the back from a mayor whom most Torontonians surveyed (61 per cent) say is doing a much better job than either Prime Minister Paul Martin or Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Miller was high on Martin as a champion for beleaguered municipalities when the former finance minister first took over leadership of the federal Liberal government from Jean Chretien. But there's been a letdown since the heady winter months when Martin seemed so "terrific" in his resolve to give Toronto prominence in his "new deal" for cities.
"They've softened their position recently," Miller laments. "I think the people of Toronto should be asking them some tough questions." Many of those interrogations should focus on what's happening with the rejuvenation of the city's derelict waterfront. Like next to nothing, thanks to the federal government's continued reluctance to rein in the Toronto Port Authority. It saddled the city with that body for no apparent reason other than to build a bridge to an expanded Island Airport for the benefit of a few so-called entrepreneurs.
"We have a choice," Miller says. "We can revitalize the waterfront or we can expand the airport."
The mayor is convinced "Torontonians want the city to be remade." And while it was nice to hear Martin and then his personal waterfront guru, Dennis Mills, say "no bridge" in support of council's decision to kill the controversial project, "we still haven't seen the federal agency - the Port Authority - take back the letter in which they threatened to build it."
Miller predicts that if the feds don't soon take decisive action on the waterfront issue (and on the bridge file in particular), its indecision will "very much affect" Grit candidates' chances hereabouts. Waterfront rejuvenation is seen as the key to Toronto having a real future, the mayor maintains. And anything Ottawa does that's seen to be preventing that key from being turned will become a symbol of its attitude toward Canada's largest metropolis and cities in general.
Indeed, the Liberals are already hurting in three city ridings that are widely seen as prime pickings for the NDP. There's Layton's tussle with Mills in Toronto-Danforth, of course. Chow is seen as having a better-than-good shot at Grit backbencher Tony Ianno in their second showdown in Trinity-Spadina. And there's growing socialist anticipation of former councillor/ Greenpeace activist Peter Tabuns taking Beaches-East York away from Liberal incumbent Maria Minna.
"Torontonians deserve people who are going to stand up for them in Parliament and actively make a change," Miller says. "That's who they deserve, and in this election they get an opportunity to elect a group of MPs who will do that."
Minority government, anyone?