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Marcus Gee

Give David Miller his due Add to ...

In a series of media interviews on Monday, Mayor David Miller listed all the great things he has done in seven years as mayor of Toronto. Tooting his own horn? You could say that. But after an election when his legacy was under attack, and that ended with the victory of one of his fiercest critics, Mr. Miller deserves a chance to remind Torontonians that he wasn't all bad.

In fact, for all his faults, he can boast some solid accomplishments. To begin with, he made city hall much more accountable. When he took office in 2003, the city administration was under a cloud cast by the MFP computer-leasing scandal. Brandishing a broom, he promised to clean the place up - and did.

Early in his first term, the city created the office of Integrity Commissioner to oversee conduct at city hall. Later came a lobbyist registry that allows citizens to check on who is trying to influence city decisions. Tougher purchasing rules and extra training for managers made for a still-tighter net against shady behaviour.

Now consider the issue of homelessness - still a concern in Toronto, but far less so than when Mr. Miller came in. The widely praised Streets to Homes program has housed 2,800 people since 2006.

Mr. Miller was often accused of favouring the downtown over the suburbs, but in fact he focused much of his energy on improving conditions in the troubled inner suburbs. His tower-renewal program that aimed to renovate down-at-heel, energy-guzzling apartment towers and his program to improve services in 13 priority neighbourhoods were both suburban initiatives. So is Transit City, the plan to bring light-rail lines to inner suburbs badly served by public transit.

The mayor was also accused of being a knee-jerk lefty who neglected the role of wealth creation in building a better city. In fact, as he pointed out on Monday, he made a point of bringing down the high development charges and commercial taxes that were forcing businesses to move out of central Toronto to other parts of the region.

Under his watch, Toronto has undergone a building boom that is the envy of many North American cities. He set up Invest Toronto, an arm's-length agency that beats the drum for the city as a place to do business, and Build Toronto, which seeks to make better use of the city's land assets.

The sorry state of the TTC was a big issue in Mr. Miller's final year as mayor, but he can hardly be blamed for the results of a generation of neglect. In fact, ridership rebounded during his mayoralty and the city made big investments in new streetcars and subway cars. Whatever you may think of the Transit City plan, he managed to extract billions from the provincial government for a project that (if mayor-elect Rob Ford doesn't derail it) will bring about the biggest expansion in mass transit in many years.

Mr. Miller introduced the 311 call-in service, which helps channel residents' complaints to city hall. He initiated an exciting renovation of rundown Nathan Phillips Square. He helped launch an ambitious renewal of Union Station. He pushed for rebuilds of Regent Park and (next to come) Lawrence Heights, closely watched experiments in ending the ghettoization of low-income housing. The waterfront finally started to come together under his watch and Toronto became known for its cultural festivals like Luminato and Nuit Blanche.

Of course the good must be weighed against the bad, and there was plenty of that. It was not for nothing that Torontonians elected Rob Ford, in many ways the antithesis of his predecessor. But, with Mr. Miller's last days in office ticking down, it would be mean-spirited to dwell on his shortcomings now.

Better to focus on the good in David Miller, who brought great energy, intelligence and integrity to his role as 63rd mayor of Toronto.

Follow on Twitter: @marcusbgee

 

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