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Rob Ford vs. David Miller. Left vs. right. Subways vs. Island Bridge. The Facts.

The attacks on the current Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford throughout the subway vs. LRT fiasco really bugged me because I recall the reaction to the previous Mayor, David Miller when he cancelled the bridge to the Toronto Islands and it was nowhere near as harsh. 

It was going to cost the City of Toronto money to get out of that contract.  Miller said it would not cost the City anything and this was at a time where he was increasing taxes year-over-year with no cutting in site.  In the end, the Federal Conservative party of Canada paid that penalty on behalf of Toronto city counsel – but if Stephen Harper’s government did not come to the rescue of Toronto city counci, it would have cost taxpayers even more!

I went back to research the facts on this bridge deal to see how it went down, and to see if my councillor Joe Mihevc went to get a lawyers opinion on this matter too.  Maybe because of his role on the then left-leaning council he didn’t feel he needed to.  I also wanted to see if I could start to look back at the budgets and transit plan laid out by Miller to see how we got into this mess which Ford has been trying to get out of to much public dissatisfaction.

I decided to look at this from neither side, so I researched and present a fact based post.  Read it and come to your own conclusions.

I have chosen to highlight some key decisions made by Toronto’s former Mayor, David Miller, a documented member of the NDP party, and his city council in the 7 years Miller was mayor of Toronto.

I’m going to begin by quoting the Globe and Mail from February 2012;

“The island airport is such a success and such an obvious asset for the city that it is hard to believe that someone once ran for mayor on resisting it.  In 2003, David Miller campaigned on a pledge to stop the construction of a bridge from the mainland to the airport. He won, city council pulled its support for the bridge, and air travellers have been riding the short-hop ferry to the airport ever since.”

Much in the way current Toronto mayor Rob Ford voted on subways, Miller pulled the plug on the tunnel to the island airport and it cost $35 million dollars to do so.  Ford pulled the plug on Transit city and costs are projected at $49 million. 

Ironically, that struggle over the bridge to the island airport seems like ancient history now. As a result of the success of Porter Airlines, the island airport has become a popular and convenient downtown alternative to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport in Mississauga with around 1.5 million passengers using it in 2011.

So instead of the bridge, the Toronto Port Authority is now going to build a $82.5-million, 240-metre tunnel which will allow passengers to and from the terminal at Billy Bishop airport on four moving sidewalks, eliminating the wait for the ferry.

Mayor Rob Ford called the tunnel “fantastic news” for the city and for the waterfront, “the day that nobody ever thought was going to come.”

Of course, the airport still has its critics. Local Councillor and pretender for the Mayorship of Toronto, Adam Vaughan was down at the waterfront with a handful of protesters who don’t like the noise and taxi traffic around the airport ferry dock. He calls Billy Bishop a “boutique service.”  If so, it’s a pretty popular boutique.

Mr. Miller feared the airport would delay waterfront revitalization by preserving “industrial” activity there. He said anything but a “sleepy commuter airport” would conflict with the city’s plans. In fact, the bustle of the airport has added to the vitality of the waterfront and the city’s downtown.  Porter draws it’s customers from the downtown condo boom and it’s closeness to the financial district which added to the city’s new cool factor.

The tunnel is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014.

Facts: David Miller was the most prominent opponent of Toronto Mayor, Mel Lastman’s plan to build a $22 million bridge to the Toronto Island Airport.  Miller argued that the bridge would prevent the city from revitalizing its waterfront, and asserted that the proposed deal put the interests of developers and lobbyists ahead of the public. The bridge became a major issue when he ran for mayor during the 2003 campaign.[

Fact: At one point in Miller’s election campaign he raised the possibility of collecting tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway to help pay for social programs. After criticism from other candidates, he dropped the suggestion.

Fact: Soon after his election as Mayor of Toronto, Miller led the council to reverse its support for the Toronto City Centre Airport Bridge. The vote, held on December 3, 2003, was 32-12 in favour of withdrawal. Afterwards, there were threats of legal action against the City by the Toronto Port Authority (TPA) and developer Robert Deluce, which were settled in 2005 when the federal Conservative government agreed to pay $35 million in compensation.

Fact: The federal payment was controversial for both supporters and opponents of Miller’s administration. Liberal MP Tony Ianno defended it as providing fair compensation to legitimate claimants, and saying that the payment proved Miller wrong when he said he would cancel the bridge without incurring further expense.  Miller’s allies, including then NDP leader Jack Layton, argued that the payout was overly generous, and did not reflect the true costs of cancellation.

Let’s look at Miller’s first budget as Mayor of Toronto to get an idea how spending in Toronto shot out of control and how there were very little consideration made to reducing spending or taxation;

Fact:  Miller’s first budget as mayor of Toronto passed by city council by a vote of 29-10. This budget increased spending by 6%, increased residential property taxes by 3% and increased business and industrial property taxes by 1.5%

Fact:  Miller’s second budget was a balanced budget by taking $19.8 million from the City’s reserved fund.  Miller blamed this on Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government not providing the $72.3 million for provincially-mandated social programs.  Residential property taxes were increased by 3% and business and industry property taxes were increased by 1.5%.

Fact: In late 2005, Miller endorsed a policy which shifted a portion of Toronto’s property tax burden from businesses and commercial operators to homeowners. He argued that it was necessary to prevent an exodus of jobs from the city.

Fact: Miller clashed with Toronto Board of Trade President and CEO and former Toronto Raptors GM Glen Grunwald at a February 2006 budgetary consultation meeting, after Grunwald presented a number of policy measures designed to solve Toronto’s budget shortfall, including; reducing spending on non-priority items, increasing user fees, privatizing some services and implementing the auditor general’s 800 suggestions. Miller criticized the suggestions as “poorly researched”, and said that the Board of Trade presentation “didn’t befit the role they have as city builders.” Toronto Star columnist Royson James, suggested that Miller’s response was disproportionately harsh, and may have alienated some business interests. Other critics pointed out Miller’s “city hall has done too little to tighten its belt”.

Fact: By January 2006, Toronto was facing a $532 million shortfall on its operating budget. To promote cost-cutting, Miller announced a hiring freeze, however still no cost-cutting.  His budget passed in Toronto city council by a vote of 27-17.  Property taxes were increased by 3% and business taxes increased by 1%.

Fact: 2007 Toronto Budget included a 3.8% property tax increase, new municipal taxes, new and higher parking fees under the new City of Toronto Act, a $60 vehicle-registration tax and a 1.5% land transfer tax.  Still no cost-cutting.

Fact: David Miller asserted that residents support the notion of increased taxes as long as the money is being used properly.

Fact: A survey conducted by the Environics Research Group showed that 70% of respondents supported a cut in expenditures rather than new taxes.

Fact:  When the light bulb went on that cuts were needed, it was David Miller who proposed service cuts from the operating budget including the closing of the Sheppard Subway line, cancelling underused bus routes, and scrapping renovations and extra staff to the mayor’s office. Miller argued that these were the only responsible steps that Toronto could take to prevent a financial crisis.

Fact: Former Scarborough Councillor Brian Ashton who recently retired from Toronto City Council – undefeated after nine successful elections over a distinguished 30-year career disagreed with Miller’s plan and was dismissed from the executive committee.

Fact: Miller’s executive committee was part of the new “strong mayor” system where key issues are dealt with before being brought to full council. The stated intention was to streamline the decision-making process.

Fact: Mayor Rob Ford tried this approach and was shot down quite quickly by councillor Karen Stintz stating “Council is supreme”.  Only when it suits the lefties, Karen. 

Fact: In 2007 and under Miller’s direction, City Manager Shirley Hoy implemented $34-million in service cuts to the budget without seeking council approval. A spokesperson for the Mayor stated “we’ve got a serious financial shortfall that has to be addressed”. Community centres and libraries were closed on Mondays and the opening of ice rinks was delayed in order to cut costs.  An arbitrator later ruled that the library closures violated the collective bargaining agreement with the union.

Fact: David Miller was a strong advocate for the Toronto Transit Commission,

Fact: Rob Ford is portrayed to not be a friend of the TTC.

Fact: In late 2004, Dalton McGuinty’s provincial Liberal government announced that it would provide $355 million in provincial gas tax revenues for the TTC over three years.

Fact: In 2005, with Miller’s permission, the TTC approved a fare increase with the price of adult tickets and tokens increasing by ten cents, and adult cash fares increased by 25 cents.

Fact: In 2004, Miller endorsed the creation of the St. Clair streetcar right-of-way, which passed in council by a vote of 36-7.

Fact:  Even former Toronto mayor John Sewell, a long-standing supporter of public transit, opposed this plan.

Fact:  As a member of Metrolinx, Miller and TTC planners unveiled a 15 year plan to construct a light-rail network (LRT) linking almost every neighbourhood within the city. The plan was conditional on funding from other levels of government with the Liberal government of Ontario committed itself to funding two-thirds of the project.

Fact: Miller formally launched a campaign for Canada’s cities to receive one of six cents charged on every dollar under the existing Goods and Services Tax at the Toronto City Summit Alliance’s Toronto Summit 2007. He has argued that the transfer will provide a reliable and permanent source of funding for cities. A website called has been set up to promote the campaign. Karen Stintz and several other councillors criticized Miller for spending $100,000 on the program before it was debated on and approved by council, and suggesting that he was advancing his personal agenda. Miller’s office argued that council approval was unnecessary for the initiative, as it had appeared in his campaign platform

Note to this last paragraph:  At the end of January, a report by a Toronto law firm, solicited by councillor Joe Mihevc, stated Mayor Rob Ford did not have the legal authority to cancel Transit City without city council approval. The report states the mayor’s memorandum of understanding with the province cannot be acted upon without council approval. He did not have authority to stop work on Transit City and proceed with his own plan even though it had appeared in his campaign platform.


So by my accounting of facts, it would appear the Miller legacy included $35 million dollar loss on the cancelling of the Toronto Island bridge paid for by the federal government.

Increased property taxes every year.

Increased business and industry taxes every year.

Cost savings came in the form of closing or reducing city services – libraries, ice rinks, other public services.

Increased TTC fares

Increased and new parking taxes and levies.

No new subways built.

A move from the “council is supreme” mantra when it is convenient as “discussed in election platforms”.

Well done, Toronto.  I can see now why all the backlash towards Rob Ford’s team.  He was voted in on a couple main promises, one being that instead of the Miller tax, levy and beg politics he wanted to cut waste, something Miller was unwilling or unable to do in his 7 years as Toronto Mayor. 

Miller manipulated the rules of city council to suit his needs re: budgets, TTC matters and transfer payments and there was no backlash from the councillors, no legal letters from Joe Mihevc, no open forum sessions where people came, dressed in costumes and told stories to the mayor and council as a show of protest / stupidity.  Toronto took the tax hit and kept quiet.  Why wouldn’t Ford expect some of that same consideration? 

Do you see how both leaders have not been treated the same by the press or by the citizens of Toronto?

Just a little, right.