Two years into David Miller’s reign, a Toronto homo has to ask herself how much city life has improved since the golden boy became our mayor.
“Not very much,” is the short answer, though not a particularly fair one. The streets and parks are still dirty, new development is still mostly ugly, the police are still barely controllable, the TTC is still falling apart, the waterfront still stagnates, opening a new licensed establishment is still nearly impossible and the downtown is still poised on the brink of collapse. And all those young men shooting each other can’t be a sign of civic health.
At the street level, the only noticeable difference in the last two years are those horrible new Eucan trashcans — were they designed by a seven-year-old? At home, there are the new compost bins and decreased garbage pickup, both steps toward sustainability though there’s still no long-term plan on where to put all the rubbish we’re not recycling and composting.
A visit to shiny Montreal or shinier Vancouver is enough to make a Torontonian cry. Instead, we go all NIMBY over every new high-rise proposal. The twitchiness seems justified because there’s little evidence developers can build anything that’s not soul crushing.
But wait — I was planning to be fair.
Miller remains a dapper and articulate figure. The fact that he knows how to dress, has great hair and doesn’t say absurdly stupid things puts him light-years ahead of his predecessor Mel “What the hell do I want to go to a place like Mombasa [for]?” Lastman. The city may be wallowing, but at least we have a sexy leader.
Then there’s the City Hall mess Miller inherited. All that inefficiency and corruption make any vision hard to implement. Though systemic reform lacks glamour, it’s a necessary step for any mayor who wants to be able to deliver promises. We just hope Miller doesn’t get lost in the labyrinth.
Governance has been another obstacle for Miller, one he seems to be making progress on. Toronto’s powers pale compared to those exercised by cities like Vancouver, Montreal or New York. For example, there’s little sense in city staff setting design standards for buildings if developers can end-run their efforts, as they usually do, by appealing to a permissive provincial authority.
In November a joint Ontario-Toronto taskforce issued a long-awaited final staff report on reforming the City Of Toronto Act in order to give Toronto more power. The new act is expected to be introduced in the Ontario legislature this month. The report proposes that Toronto be given the power to establish standards for new development, to control the demolition and conversion of rental housing to condominiums, to establish minimum densities, to licence and regulate business in new ways, to control store openings on holidays and to tax entertainment, alcohol and tobacco (but not gas).
A friend of mine used to fantasize about a city-state of Toronto. This is a small step in that direction.
These changes will give Miller far more options to solve our problems. We fantasize that he has a list of innovative projects ready to go the moment the new act becomes law.
The report doesn’t mention anything about giving Toronto more control of liquor licensing, a disappointment for those who believed Miller’s 2003 campaign promise to Xtra to make the city more fun. Toronto should have the ability to speed up the approval process for new licensed establishments, to extend liquor hours and to negotiate licensing exceptions for special events — like allowing an entire street or park to be licensed for Pride. If they can levy a new tax on booze, it’s only fair to drinkers that we get something in return. The Brits can handle 24-hour bars — a new law came into effect there last week — so Torontonians certainly can.
Miller’s got one year left in his mandate. We’re going to pretend he’s spent the last two getting in shape and picking out the right shoes for a sprint to a fun and beautiful city. It’s better than thinking that our current state of affairs is two-thirds of the way toward Miller’s vision.