Now That The Elections Are Over…

By Wally Hourback | November 13, 2003

There’s dancing in the streets in downtownToronto these days and it is loud enough that you can hear it all the way up here in North Bay. Two major political improvements in a row is nothing to be sneezed at. Having a provincial government that won’t either ignore downtown Toronto or find ways to slap it around was a bonus. And so, I think, is the election of David Miller, who’s likely to be the most capable mayor the city has had since David Crombie. Now, with Paul Martin Jr.’s indication that he’ll put a halt on the Toronto Island airport bridge by slapping an Environmental Assessment Review on it, there’s yet another reason to be pleased. Martin’s incoming federal Liberal regime, ugly and corporate as it is likely to be, will almost certainly be more sensitive to the big cities, if for no other reasons that their fave corporate captains are sick of wading through the homeless and the garbage on the way home to their Rosedale, Westmount and Shaughnessy mansions.

Good thing, because there’s a lot on Miller’s plate If he is successful in stopping the fixed link to the Toronto Island (short-hand for expansion of the facility), he’d better be working simultaneously toward securing a transit link out to Pearson, because stopping the downtown airport will turn into a giant political turkey if all it means is more pollution and gridlock in the suburbs of the city, where the quality of life is already noticeably grimmer than in the parts where you can see Lake Ontario. The real test here, as in nearly every other area of the city, will be the degree to which Miller can stay in control of his downtown constituency and their unruly herd of sacred cows, and build a consensus that includes the suburbs, which a lot of downtowners would prefer to see carpet-bombed. From an urban planning point of view, that may well be the best solution, given the crappy land economics and the social dysfunction—soon to get worse—that is built into the burbs. The other shoe that’s about to drop within Miller’s world is the recognition that there’s no point in stopping the expansion of the downtown airport if the beaches along the lakefront remain too polluted to use. Toronto needs a vast lake cleanup, and it is certain to be more expensive than finding ways to clear up the debris from Mel Lastman’s eight year tenure as glad-handing pitchman for the tourist bureau.

One of the mysterious events of the last days of the election was the apparently unsolicited announcement, by the head honcho of Air Canada’s budget subsidiary, Jazz, that a fixed link to the Toronto Island Airport would inevitably mean jet traffic would be landing there. The Good Lord alone knows exactly how many fence-sitters that sent leaping off the pickets into Miller’s camp, but that isn’t the mystery. Some of my leftie pals at the bar insist that the Jazz announcement was corporate arrogance, pure and simple, but I ain’t so sure. Air Canada owns the still-unfinished terminal at Pearson, which I happened to notice, while I was driving into town on the 427 last Sunday, isn’t being worked on very hard, (or, on the weekends, at all). Maybe the brain-trust (such as it is) at Air Canada may not have thought that expanding the downtown airport was in their interest. It makes me wonder if that seemingly blundering announcement might not have been quite as stupid as it looked.

Some of the fine detail of the civic elections is worth noting. Police chief Julian Fantino’s ill-considered endorsement of John Tory is one of them. Fantino’s interpretation of his post, generally, has been that he works for the police department and its officers, not for the City of Toronto and its people. This may sound like an unimportant distinction, but politicized police are a danger to any democracy, and Toronto’s police union, under Craig Brommel, has been out of control on this count throughout the Lastman mayoralty. It is clear that this has had Fantino’s tacit approval. That’s why one of Miller’s first jobs is to get his police chief, the police board, and the union working for its true employer.

Down in the downtown ward where my editor lives, there’s Joe Pantalone. He’s represented the ward for close to 30 years, but this election he had some minor competition from Jeff Brown, a personable young lawyer who got about 3000 votes, mostly, according to my editor, from the younger Anglo professionals who are fast becoming the biggest minority in the neighbourhood. But it might not all be because Jeff Brown is charming. A lot of people in the ward are finding that Joe has become er, “unresponsive” over the last few years, both to the small businesses in the area and to those who are fond of the area’s trees, for which Joe likes to call himself the city’s chief advocate. I’ve heard a few of Joe’s constituents say that Joe doesn’t seem to have done anything for the trees lately except gather kudos on their behalf. With the city now metering water, and with global warming drying and heating the streets more than in the past, a large number of downtown Toronto’s trees were in a serious state of distress by the end of last summer, and many are likely to die in the next few years. One of the things Joe ought to do, aside from hanging around with developers more than is healthy, is produce a tree-protection bylaw that’ll make sure that Toronto doesn’t resemble downtown Moscow in a decade.

One more thing: While I was rescuing next year’s tomato stakes from the large-placard signs the day after the election, I stumbled onto the real reason David Miller beat John Tory. The stakes the Miller campaign used are at least eight inches longer than the Tory stakes. This is the sort of thing that the local Italian and Portuguese gardeners weren’t likely to miss.


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