3 min

Miller eyes the mayor’s chair

Will he split the left?


As a graduate of Harvard and the University Of Toronto law school, David Miller could be making big bucks in the field for which he trained – civil litigation.

Instead the city councillor for Parkdale-High Park, believed to be in the running for Toronto mayor in 2003, has chosen activism over elitism. Rather than the restrained atmosphere of the courtroom, Miller finds himself in the thick of the often raucous proceedings at City Hall and the demands of the numerous committees on which he sits or chairs.

Looking ahead, Miller is seen to be the stiffest competition on the left for former mayor Barbara Hall, who also has her eye on Mayor Mel Lastman’s job.

With a City Hall divided between the right and the left, between 416 and 905 area codes, Miller says more people need to get involved in city politics.

“Mel Lastman is not a community-involved guy,” says Miller, who is married to a woman and has two kids. “He likes to be on the front page of the paper and it ends there. People need to feel that their city supports them.”

In an era of cutbacks that affect everything from access to community centres to efficient transit service, Miller insists that what has to be done for Toronto to thrive – including fulfilling promises of affordable housing and improving the transit system – can only be done by forging better relations among all levels of government.

“There are some good programs already in place in this city, but they need resources, not the dribs and drabs they get now. Right now, we have a terrible relationship with the provincial government. They don’t understand the importance of Toronto to the province as a whole. Until 1997 or ’98, for example, the provincial government funded 75 percent of the TTC. Now, they fund nothing.”

Compared with major US cities, whose transit systems receive funding from both state and federal governments, Miller wonders whether we are not being told that driving a car is really “the better way.”

“I went out to Scarborough a few months ago and rode around on the buses, talking to people. They need affordable, reliable transit. They’re the ones who can’t work unless they can take a bus,” he says.

Miller says that Toronto’s activist past has kept the city from bowing down completely to the bean counters who would rather slash budgets than think creatively. He says the gay community has the idea.

“The 519 Community Centre is a good example of an organization that still does its job despite a shoestring budget. That’s also because of where it is located and the people who are involved. The heart of the Toronto gay community is really the downtown east central core.”

Miller says the city-owned but community-run centre provides programs for more than just its neighbourhood.

“Toronto is the magnet for young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth who often come here without housing. This has had a major impact on the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi and trans] community in all respects, including safety.”

Miller acknowledges the challenges that the megacity faces and that, in fact, Toronto is a new kind of town.

“In the past, as an organization, City Hall was a different place. The politicians elected now are elected for different reasons. The politicians from what used to be the suburbs don’t see downtown Toronto issues the same way people living here do. But with education, anything can change. In the long run, we’re all affected by the same things.”

No one was more surprised than Miller by City Hall’s vote in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage. Tabled by openly-gay councillor Kyle Rae, it called on the federal government to allow gay marriage.

“I wasn’t able to be there for the vote, but of course I would have voted in favour of it. It’s a human rights issue, after all. But it goes to show you that people in Toronto understand diversity,” says Miller.

And about that mayor’s job?

“Of course, I would like it!” says Miller, who introduced this summer an unsuccessful motion to censor Lastman for many of the stupid things he’s said. “And when I’m ready I’ll announce whether I’m running.”

There are concerns that if both Miller and Hall run, they will split the vote on the left leaving a rightwing candidate like Lastman to win again. Though Hall is much-missed, it’s been Miller attracting attention at council.