Let's just say this about the first mayoral debate, held at U of T: David Miller was compelled to stay awake.
But let's say this as well: it wasn't, strictly speaking, a debate. More like a set of alternating speeches by two blonds.
One of them, Miller, likes Toronto. In his opening remarks, he calls ours a "great" city. "Great cities are about shared hope, shared vision, shared pride." His pitch, predictable but sensible, is his standard triad: negotiations on a new deal with the province, transit ridership growth initiatives, 450 new police officers.
"Since I ran for mayor three years ago," he says, "I've laid a strong foundation for building Toronto's future. And I'm running again because now it's time to build on that foundation." See? He likes Toronto. He's going to build something.
Jane Pitfield, on the other hand, doesn't like Toronto. To hear her tell it, we are beset by a callous aristocracy. Our transit "has not grown ahead of demand, and there is no plan to expand." Our streets are unsafe. We have no waste diversion plan, and we'll be buried when Michigan closes its landfill doors. The poor live in squalor, and merchants are overtaxed.
In fact, no one has any money except for City Hall, which spends its share on "cronyism, nepotism and personal agendas."
We need to build relationships, she says, with the 905, the province and the feds. We must see 50 per cent fewer homeless on the street immediately. And "let's not brag that diversity is our strength - it's becoming our weakness." Also, we all have cancer. Oh, and Jane would like a pony.
For the rest of the evening, the two riff on questions from a panel of U of T urban studies students and the audience. On waste diversion, Pitfield supports sending trash to Halton for incineration while pushing for local, dioxin-free waste-to-energy tech that may or may not exist. She would return to the bag-tag system she championed chairing the works committee: people won't pollute if their pocketbooks are prodded.
Miller is unimpressed, pointing out that where 143 trucks a day moved our munge to Michigan in 2003, we're now down to 80. For that, he thanks us. "You've done it through diversion, you've done it through the green bin," he says, adding that Torontonians are proud to participate in a cutting-edge composting system.
Round one over, Pitfield is keeping her balance, and she would have continued to keep it if not for her attacks on Miller on transit. Asked how she would expand the TTC without raising fares, her answer is to banish bus schedules - these cause delays, you see - and stop all those supervisors from taking notes.
Miller answers, "I don't like raising fares," calling this a last resort. He points out that senior governments need to return to the business of subsidies, and defends his record. He crows about the new transit passes. "Once people have a pass, they commit to transit," and more ridership will mean more funding for light rail expansion.
Miller's responses focus on people working with City Hall, while Pitfield posits the "us' in opposition.
She argues that adding streetcars won't work because people are angry about the push for right-of-way routes like the controversial St. Clair project. But doesn't she also say people are angry that transit isn't expanding? If you're angry at yourself, vote Jane.
Or maybe you're just embarrassed. "I'm embarrassed to be on a council that allows people to sleep on the streets night after night," she says. Rather, we should be like New York. New York has no panhandlers, according to Pitfield. (We call that deadpanhandler humour.)
This would be accomplished by building "rehab centres" for homelessness and getting people off the street, "not by sweeping them off the streets, but by offering more services." Would that be lip service? She neglects, of course, to mention her push earlier that day at policy and finance for a "quality of life" bylaw that would allow police to sweep panhandlers off the street.
Pitfield says she'd build 5,000 new homes a year, 1,200 of which would be set aside for Toronto Community Housing Corporation residents - to buy. In other words, she'd make sure that 5,000 new non-affordable units were built on the private market each year. If not stopping condo development is all it takes, I can be mayor, too. Hell, I'm mayor right now.
Miller stands by his Streets To Homes initiative, which sends staff to shanties to strongly encourage people move to rooming houses. The Pitfield approach: sweep, then offer housing. The Miller approach: offer housing, then sweep. What about just offering housing? Anyone?
As the evening shambles on, I wonder if Pitfield's stronger arguments aren't due in part to some judicious cribbing from the Miller playbook. She says, for instance, that we need to negotiate a better relationship with the province, and that more power should be delegated to community councils - the former issue being the bulk of Miller's term, the latter part of the new governance structure he oversaw.
On the topic of possible de-amalgamation, Miller says it would be a disaster and that amalgamation can now mean more resources leveraged to go to neighbourhoods that have not enjoyed equality.
"Unfortunately, David," responds Pitfield, "things are not equal for all our neighbourhoods under amalgamation." Jane. Active listening. He just said that.
She distinguishes herself on one issue. "Spending has increased $1.3 billion under David Miller," she says, resulting in taxes rising faster than the cost of living, "and that's why some people call him the Billion Dollar Man." I'm not sure if reporters transcribing her words count as "some people," though.
Miller responds that city spending has increased by $275 million in the last three years (arguing that the billion-plus Pitfield refers to is mostly new provincial funding). "And you know what? I think that's great. You need to invest in your city."
Pitfield appeals to the part of us that wants everything fixed at once, right away. According to her, Miller is a failure because he couldn't undo in three years the combined damage of amalgamation, years of provincial downloading, dried-up funding for housing from senior governments and a legacy of trophy spending by previous councils.
To Miller's credit, he doesn't take the bait. It's a shame, though, that he's not challenged to outline his accomplishments and hopes at a nitty-gritty level and to spell out how we can help outside of buying a Metropass.
Asked about accountability, he says it comes through consultation and setting priorities in council. A fine answer, but how will that consultation be achieved? What will council's priorities be? What were they this time round? Pitfield, champion of Everyperson, is no more specific.
Neither candidate is questioned on his or her assumptions about police funding or what exactly a beautiful city is or the pace of cycling infrastructure. And for an event hosted by urban studies at U of T, there isn't much studious discussion of actual city processes. A debate, for example, on using zoning and planning powers to compel developers to build mixed-income projects would have been refreshing.
In the end, what it comes down to is a choice between two well-to-do blonds, one who likes Toronto and would keep doing what he's doing, and another who doesn't like Toronto and would do what her opponent is doing, but for free.
It's not much of a challenge. But, then, where the big chair is concerned, it's not much of an election.