It’s time for more liberal-minded city councillors to stand up to Mayor Rob Ford, his predecessor says.
The service cuts championed by Mr. Ford and his brother, councillor Doug Ford, are ill-advised but predictable so it is up to other city councillors to stay true to their values and rein them in, says former Toronto mayor David Miller.
“Mr. Ford and his brother, if you’re around city hall and close to it, what you see is what you get. You shouldn’t be surprised,” Mr. Miller said in an interview Thursday morning on Newstalk 1010 radio.
“But there are lots of members of city council who are card-carrying members of the Liberal political party, who have been voting for things that the provincial government would criticize were they done provincially.
“I think it’s time for them to stand up. Maybe we’re seeing a bit of that now. They should be voting for the kind of Toronto they purport to believe in.”
The former mayor would not explicitly say that he was bothered by the new administration, which has spent the last nine months undoing his legacy.
But in the same breath, Mr. Miller said that “my view of Toronto is that it’s a tremendous city but if we don’t invest in it, it’s not going to succeed.”
The current administration is in the midst of a contentious money-cutting exercise to close an expected $774-million shortfall in next year’s budget.
“I wouldn’t call what’s going on now a plan. I don’t think there is,” said Mr. Miller.
“It’s just massive cuts to the TTC, cuts to buses. That’s going to put more people in cars and it’s going to make gridlock worse.”
He noted that he left a $300-million surplus when his term ended. The city budget is not sustainable when property taxes are frozen and other levies eliminated, he said.
Alluding not just to the municipal scene but to other conservative governments, the former mayor said “they campaign on this belief that you can cut taxes without cutting services. Of course you can’t.”
The current administration’s budget chief, councillor Mike Del Grande, however, disputed Mr. Miller’s portrayal, saying that the previous mayor increased the city’s debt and saddled it with a $1.2-billion capital project to purchase new streetcars.
“To say that he made it rosy and beautiful for the next administration is not accurate. He left us with a legacy of doing absolutely nothing during his council term, to take the debt from $2.5-billion to $4.3-billion,” Mr. Del Grande told the Globe in a phone interview.
“It’s not sustainable,” Mr. Del Grande said. “We have program creep everywhere . . . The tough decisions have to be made. We need all to share the pain.”
In his radio interview, Mr. Miller said the city and the province were “extremely unwise” to shelve his Transit City plan for a provincially-paid $8.7-billion above-ground light rail system.
The Ford administration declared Transit City dead and negotiated a new deal with Queen’s Park. Under that deal, the provincial government will build a mostly-buried crosstown light-rail line for about $8.2-billion and the city will try to build a nine-station $4.7-billion expansion of the Sheppard subway from Downsview station to Scarborough Town Centre.
“It’s being buried in places where it doesn’t need to be from a transportation perspective and they’re using the money to bury it where it doesn’t need to be buried . . . It is less for more,” Mr. Miller said.
“We’d love to have a subway in every neighbourhood but (a) you can’t afford it, and (b) very few neighbourhoods in this city have the density that justifies a subway.”
With a election camp unfolding now in Ontario, and the potential for an NDP-Liberal minority government in Queen’s Park, it would be possible to better finance public transit, Mr. Miller, saying that his old proposal could easily be revived.
“The plan’s there, the environmental assessments were done. You could turn it on like a switch. If you wanted to, you could start construction on Finch in two months and Sheppard probably next week.”
Singing praises for the city’s libraries, he said that “when you start cutting at these things, you cut at the fabric of the city and your city deteriorates. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s an ideological position but it’s not a practical position.”
Mr. Miller said he is done with politics and now keeps busy with private law practice and teaching.