When people complain that david Miller's been a do-nothing mayor, I feel almost certain what they mean is that he's a do-nothing-ridiculous mayor.
They're annoyed that he has yet to provide any scandals to salivate over, and perhaps secretly pine for the return of Mel Lastman, the fount of political pratfalls that carried the conversation for us.
Let's review. Toronto is now the only city in Canada with a formal agreement with the federal government on transit and housing funding. Under Miller, Toronto saw the birth of its first green energy plan and the outlines of a green roofs strategy. There are more buses on the roads. There's been an increase in citizen round tables.
And we're seeing some cautious but clear steps toward the decentralization of power.
"We have to promise what we can actually do," Miller says at November 6's Spacing magazine debate in response to questions directed to him and Jane Pitfield. What? That's crazy talk. This is an election. Promise me my own subway! Tell me you'll personally spay my cat! In fact, tell me you did it yesterday. Then promise 384 new police officers, whom you will pay with bits of string, to stop the threat of break-in cat spayings.
It says all manner of things about Toronto that so many of us are outraged by honesty and that the most inspiring thing that could happen to our municipal politics is someone being cautious. We'll have to deal with that down the road.
For now, there's the matter of a challenger accruing legitimacy not on the strength of her own platform, but on the basis of her opponent's being a little boring sometimes. (Apparently, that's a fault attibutable only to incumbents, but Pitfield isn't exactly a carnival herself, you know.)
Well, guess what? Politics is boring. Surprise. But lest we forget, Miller doesn't want to be Batman, he wants to be mayor.
Mayors don't run councils. The least of them are glorified mascots, the best skilled diplomats. Miller's proven himself more of the latter, and Pitfield et al. are trying to turn us against him for being little of the former. Some would like it if someone else could just come in and snap, crackle and pop make us a great city (see World Expo bid whinging).
Mayors certainly don't run cities or elect themselves. Believe it or not, we do both. So if they're boring, who's to blame? It is we who set the tone of election debates by what we demand, and what we've shown interest in during the intervening years.
Which is why we always end up cramming at the last minute. For three years, the city is kept running by reports, consultations, assessments and a whole lot of schedules, most of which we're perfectly happy to know nothing about, to our detriment. But elections roll around, and three years of meetings and reports are supposed to suddenly culminate in a Greek tragedy . Those particularly skilled in pandering can usually drum one up. Pitfield has only just barely been able to muster a comical farce more Joe Orton than Jocasta.
Could Miller be less cautious at times? A thousand hells, yes. But he hasn't exactly seen a sign that we've got his back that we, the ponderous populous, will ante up.
To a question on using Section 37 (the part of the Planning Act that allows the city to extract money from developers in exchange for granting them extra density) to make affordable housing mandatory, Miller replies that he'd rather see it as a part of the new Official Plan and encourages us to speak up in our neighbourhoods and discourage residents associations from fighting that measure at the Ontario Municipal Board.
Grilled on bike lanes, he says there needs to be a political alliance of citizens and councillors to defeat opponents to the Bike Plan.
Hear the chattering classes sputter: But! But! You're supposed to do it for us!
Remember, the mayor is only one vote. Unless he's empowered by a council he can work with and a citizenry that gives a damn, he actually can't do a thing. But greatness is possible if people are both permitted and willing to take ownership of the civic spaces ostensibly created for them. Witness the radical municipalism in Mexico and other Latin America countries or the borough councils in New York.
That first part, the permission, is being tentatively extended: witness the experiment in citizen round tables and the preliminary shuffling of governance restructuring. These things will be stillborn if we don't show interest, and then, yes, we will be left with the empty shell of fake consultation, and people like Pitfield will be able to feed on precisely the sort of apathy they sought to create.
These are small steps so far, to be sure, but in many ways, Toronto is still just a small town with a financial district. It has the potential to be one of the world's great cities, but needs a foundation. And you don't build that by dumping a pile of cement on the ground, then yelling at it. You plan, you build a bit, you plan some more. There's a reason people like to decorate their houses but hire other people to build them it's slow going.
If you don't want to vote for Miller, don't. Vote for yourself, and use Miller as a placeholder. Vote for keeping the political discourse within orbit and the doors open.
If nothing else, vote to keep Pitfield and, more importantly, those waiting in the wings to rebuild on her ashes out of the big chair. She'd be happy to make sure we all forget that we have just as much right to be in there as she does more, in fact. Then we'd really have no one to blame but ourselves. And we'd be stuck with ourselves for good.