The mayoral debate on Wednesday, October 15, organized by the Toronto Environmental Alliance was a chance to see who's on first in the environmental ball game, but it was also an attempt to discern who's the least like John Tory. Which, for environmentalists, is a good yardstick. Many also came for the final draft of Barbara Hall's spin on the Island Airport expansion. "The issue," she stated, "comes down to a 100-metre bridge." Strike one: it comes down to whether the fixed link is a Trojan horse. "If I'm elected mayor, there will be no further development of the Island Airport. That means no jets or condos.' With that, she took one for Team Hall. But if you ask me, she leaned into the pitch. "No condos at the Island Airport.' No kidding - it's the rest of the island we're worried about.
Hall continued to win bursts of applause, but for what was unclear. Her pitches were way outside the (recycling) box, consisting of stock phrases interspersed with Shatneresque pauses and plentiful "ums." She relied mostly on her version of a fastball. She dodged questions on five occasions by referring to the "many people in this room" who've been tackling environmental issues with ingenuity and passion and who would apparently be encouraged to continue thusly were she to be elected. Flattery wears thin, and I imagine that they might like a break from picking up City Hall's slack.
Mangled sports metaphors aside, the whole thing left me wondering why environmentalists support Hall. And it seems I'm not alone.
The fact that David Miller seems to know what he's talking about might be helping. He was eager to mention his credentials: an architect of the Black Creek Regional Transit Management Association, supporter of a subway line to York University, co-chair of the Oak Ridges Moraine board and TTC commissioner when the Ridership Growth Strategy was penned. And his High Park riding has had to come up with solutions for runoff pollution at Sunnyside Beach.
He was in his element, rhyming off rain barrel programs and FoodShare. In casual conversation afterward, he spoke comfortably of pesticide issues. Most heartening was the fact that he suggested that City Hall would not only fund necessary programs but actually do so in consultation with those in the know. "Even with the limited engagement [with community organizations] that the TTC does now," he said, "people come up with amazing ideas. It'll make the whole system more efficient."
In the post-Mel era, accountability is key. Fortunately, any of these three would be better than Mel, though Hall did her best to commit herself to little, stating that she "will go out to communities to listen to their issues regarding transit and other issues." This conjures up a nightmare of Barbara Hall actually going door to door, making us wait 20 minutes while she asks us how we're doing tonight. And "issues about issues?" Someone needs to update MayorBot 1994's speech processors.
She and Tory scored some points by pledging to hold regular meetings at accessible locations, but Tory had already lost most of those points by suggesting that an enviro assessment on his garbage incinerator was consultation enough. Miller was more than happy to run with it: "Does Scarborough get a choice? Does Leaside get a choice? Does Rosedale get a choice?" Cue the applause.
The other thing that city business could use after Mel is a bit of humour. Mel's funny, but not so much funny "ha" as funny "uh-oh." Know what? John Tory's actually a pretty funny guy. When Miller agreed with him on a point, he was quick to say, "Are you OK?" and offer some water. Oh, John.
If it's a chuckle you want, though, look to Miller.
You may have seen his subway ads: "Extraordinary vision. Extraordinary leadership. Extraordinary hair." I don't know if I'd call it extraordinary - nice and wavey, sure - but it's unexpected without being kitten-eater unexpected. An equally welcome surprise is that those who clamour for an ear at City Hall just might get it. I twirl my princely locks in anticipation.