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 http://www.onecentnow.ca 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.

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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.

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So how then, do we clean up this mess?


Boy, am I frustrated. I see tweets, status updates and posts on Facebook from all these really smart people – much smarter than me – who have all the solutions for how to handle Toronto’s almost $800 million dollar budget shortfall.

The common theme: Ignore it. David Miller ignored it and he’s a lawyer. He’s smart. He probably even goes into libraries. GASP. Rob Ford is fat. Him and his brother don’t use libraries. Therefore they don’t know what they are talking about.

David Miller was a New Democrat in every sense of the word. Rob Ford is (shame) Conservative. Ford runs a business and wants to run Toronto like a business. Toronto is NOT a business cries the left. Toronto is our city. Toronto is also our city that is going bankrupt because it does not have enough money to meet its current obligations.

Toronto needs to balance its books. Most in this city would agree. However the way to balance the books differs greatly across the spectrum. The view from the left is to not touch social programs and keep that spending set, but make up the difference by taxing the “wealthy”. Let those SOB’s pay! Good for nothing rich folks. The right, however, want to look at what the City is really responsible for, and trim some of the fat associated with the city’s duties. Do we need 32 librarians making over $100,000/year? Probably not.

I feel the biggest issue here is that people from the left think that Mayor Ford wants to cut, cut, cut and that once all the social programs are cut there will be nothing left for the poor, but that could not be further from the truth. What the Mayor as said repeatedly – however maybe not clear enough – is that the City needs to look at what the city offers first and foremost to see if the city needs to be in that line of business.

Should the city be funding parades? Should the city be contributing money for festivals? How about checking into city run organizations to make sure that there is enough work for the staff to do and that all the positions are needed. Not only is that fiscally responsible but it is morally responsible for this Mayor’s office and city council to do these checks and balances since the majority of the funding they get is from taxes of you and of me.

And as for the fact that there seems to be some sort of tie in between the “rich” and “conservatism”, it might have something to do with the fact that those who have more money pay more taxes. End of story. Sure they may pay less income tax than others, but property taxes are huge and growing and then there are all the additional consumption taxes that are being gathered from this class of Torontonian. To piss them off could mean a sudden mass move from Toronto to surrounding areas and their tax dollars too.

Surely even those on the left who want equality among all citizens even can admit that having wealthy and ultra-wealthy in the city is a boon for the rest of us as their taxes go a long way to keeping this city moving.

So I have clearly given a lot of thought to the predicament the City of Toronto is in, and I look around the world at countries in deep financial hardship like Greece – due to their unions and retirement at 52 years old – and Iceland, and all the countries seeking bailouts, then I look south of our border to the US where there is a deep divide between the democrats and republicans over how to get the US out of trouble and I worry.

I worry that in Toronto we are going to get caught up in the troubles they have in the US and that is going to delay out way out of this crisis and eventually push it on to our children and their children.

I think socialists, liberals and conservatives alike can all agree that there are few viable options aside from either cutting spending or increasing revenues.

Every time Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford announces he is looking at ways to cut expenditures, he has always said that; “Toronto does not have a revenue problem”, at which point, up pop the socialists who demand that he not cut anything that they like. They say no to libraries, zoo’s, farms, the TTC, programs, grants… the whole lot. As a matter of fact, I have not heard one viable way to get out of this mess from any of my friends on the left.

I wonder if in 1974 when Riverdale Farm was closed for almost 5 years, if residents blamed the mayor and said that the local government was chasing away tourism or taking the “culture out of Toronto”. I happen to think that the 1.8 million visitors to Riverdale might be better to turn their tourism dollars over to the Toronto Zoo which desperately needs funds too, or is that thinking too far forward? Does the City even need to run the Toronto Zoo? Does the City of Vaughan run Canada’s Wonderland? No, it’s run by private interests. Paramount Canada’s Wonderland, I believe.

Yes there are more Tim Horton’s than Libraries in Councillor Doug Ford’s ward, but there are 3 within a few blocks of each other and that seems like a waste. I know on Avenue Road, there were 3 TD Banks within 3 blocks of each other and fast forward a year later, now there is one amazing state of the art branch and the other 2 locations were sold off and taken as a huge profit to the bank. Why can’t the city do this without getting flack for wanting to destroy the culture of the city. He’s not closing ALL the libraries… He’s consolidating them and putting the city in a better position to upgrade the remaining ones.

My point… Even though some things are done a certain way, it doesn’t make it right. Would you consider moving to a new house without selling your old one? No, because it doesn’t make sense, so keeping old outdated libraries just because Margaret Atwood thinks it is important – as an author – doesn’t mean it makes sense.

I think it’s time we, as Torontonians take her words and the words of others for what they are… Opinions of interest groups. Atwood has an interest in libraries as an author – probably not the same interest she has in selling her books, but she has a cause. As a staunch supporter of the NDP and their policies, it is her requirement to stir the pot at City Hall in order to make the Ford’s look goofy. Much in the same way other interest groups have stepped forward to gain support for their causes. I would never consider Atwood for the mayor of this city, much in the same way I would not look to the Ford’s to write children’s books.

Can anyone truly stand back and watch something they believe in or like be cut for the betterment of all of society? Heck no. I think if Atwood took a step back and realized the dire straights the city’s financial records are in she would give a second thought to all options for reducing expenses and if she has a better solution that cutting waste, then let’s hear it.

I, for one, as a conservative, think that putting our head in the sand and hoping this goes away is the worst approach to take and I do object to increased taxes because I already pay a lot, but if after exhausting all means for cutting expenses, increasing my taxes for a short-term to make ends meet is the only way to balance the books, then sign me up and fast.

As a citizen of Toronto who has participated in this process by being involved in residents groups, considered running for city councilor and helps my community in any way needed, I just want to know that the current mayor has looked under every rock for ways to save money before coming to me for more taxes. Yes, I do pay more because I choose to live in a bigger house in a nicer neighbourhood, and that is my choice. Paying additional taxes to keep 3 libraries open 3 blocks from each other is wasteful and I wouldn’t waste that kind of money personally, nor would I expect my staff or my employer to accept that kind of waste, so why would I tolerate that from the City that I live in.

So my message to you, mayor Ford, is to keep finding ways to save the city money, keep those programs open and keep helping others. If after all your work you still need some additional tax money from me, I will gladly pay it and consider it money well spent, helping those less fortunate.

It’s a welcome change from the previous left-leaning governments who spend, spend and spend without a substantial plan on how to pay for everything.

The last thing we need right now are special interest groups gathering resources to protect their own interests and not look at the big picture. We are one city. One large city in deep financial crisis. If we take the Atwood approach: She had this to say in the Toronto Star; “Expressing contempt for creative people turns people away from Toronto as a venue, and that’s a pretty serious consideration. If you’re thinking of having a convention, you’re thinking of having a concert, you’re thinking of going to a festival, and that’s the attitude? Why wouldn’t you spend your dollars somewhere else.” So she takes the attitude that if getting finances in order means touching anything “cultural” then stay away from Toronto. So she really does not like Toronto if she is that closed minded to want to damage the city she weeks ago cared so deeply for.

“You start with tossing off latte drinkers, gay Pride and bicycle riders and me, what’s the message? The message is: ‘We don’t want you people here.’ I’m sure Hamilton or Burlington or Oshawa would be very happy if some of those festivals and conventions moved there. Why shouldn’t I spend my creative dollar in New York if I’m not welcome in Toronto?” Does she really take herself that seriously that she thinks people are going to stop spending their money in Toronto because a Councillor doesn’t know who she is? Really, Margaret? Does she also think that all the large corporations and organizations in Toronto are going to pick up their people and ship them to Oshawa or Guelph because the City of Toronto wants to cut waste? That has to be the dumbest comment I have ever heard. No wonder the Star carried this story.

Maybe there is a bit of irony in the fact that Ford, as Toronto mayor wants to stop funding non-core items, yet Atwood who has become an opponent to the mayor’s office was busy writing, “in the woods, without electricity,” last week when this all stated. She wasn’t even in the city! So who is she speaking for? The downtown elite, or herself?

I think every time I see someone criticize the mayor’s office for being thorough investigating ways to save money in the city and for looking at core business services they are cutting off their noses in spite of their faces. Is it really so bad that they want to balance the books now… For good, so that your children and your children’s children won’t be saddled with your debt and our parents debt wondering why we didn’t do anything when we had the chance.

I suspect if this was left to fester again, in Miller-like fashion, future generations will be calling us the greedy generation – too caught up in our own self interests to help others.