Seven years after he swept into office on a broom, Mayor David Miller still knows the value of a good prop.
He flips through a mini photo album with images of himself opening the city's public pay toilet earlier this year (after 2,000 visits it has become, he notes with a degree of pride, a tourist attraction).
He pulls open the book of policy promises he ran on in 2006 - "I've done everything that's in it."
A book of elementary-school drawings of things students love about Toronto sits on the coffee table in his office, which overlooks a construction-ridden Nathan Phillips Square. Neighbourhoods, knights and "the ocean" figure prominently.
It's kinder feedback than the outgoing mayor has gotten in a while, at least from the campaign trail. After months of an election in which candidates railed against a non-existent incumbent and a dysfunctional municipal government, all eyes are on an Etobicoke councillor leading the pack on promises he'll clean up City Hall by doing the polar opposite of his left-leaning predecessor. And the electorate, if you believe every poll since June, loves the idea.
But barely 90 minutes before he formally endorses Joe Pantalone, the faithful deputy mayor polling in a distant third place - and on the same day the Canadian Club canned a speaking engagement featuring the departing mayor that had managed to lure only 19 attendees - David Miller insists we've got it all wrong.
Torontonians love the city, he says, and they love what he's done with it. He wouldn't change a thing. And although he refuses to summarize his legacy, he's convinced that everyone - the premier he has slagged, the unions whose garbage strike cost him his popularity, the voters and his replacement - will figure out he was right all along.
A little over a year ago, you said you didn't want to run again because you'd accomplished everything you wanted to accomplish, and if you ran again, the campaign would be all about you. But a lot of this campaign has been about you. That must feel weird.
Well I think [the candidates are]missing what Torontonians want to talk about. … Torontonians, regardless of what they think about a particular issue at City Hall, they love the city. They're proud of it. They recognize the city needs investment in public transit, they need to make sure we don't become a city of haves and have-nots, so we need to invest in priority neighbourhoods. They want to invest in arts and culture. They understand we need to keep the city prosperous. And, you know, it's my view any mayor worth their salt should be talking about those kinds of issues. They may have their different approach, and fair enough. It's politics and politics is about different positions. But that's what I think Torontonians want to hear discussion about.
Do you ever wish you were running?
Are there things you'll miss?
Oh, for sure. My self-image is that I'm this boy from a small village in England. … And to have the privilege of being mayor of not just the greatest city in Canada but the most livable city in the world, a really special place, is really incredible.
Transit City was one of your priorities as mayor - do you think that's been diminished now?
Well, this is a Toronto issue. People have kept saying to me, "How come we never build public transit?" And the reason I was so critical of the premier was, I know from my own lived life experience, you have a moment in time when you can build it. Prime Minister Harper has caused the federal government to put federal money into Transit City, the city is putting city money into Transit City, the province committed to paying the large bulk of it. That was a moment in time. …Those political moments are rare.
Do you think it's hurt relations with the province, the tussle over transit funding?
Yes, [Premier McGuinty]hurt relations with the city because he broke his own word, he broke his own election promise, he broke his commitment and he broke all the rules about announcements. … But I think they're realizing the error of their ways.
Do you think Torontonians are angry?
Then how do you explain the fact that the person leading in the polls is someone who's able to play off a sense of discontent?
I think there's a dissonance between these Family Compact chattering classes and people's everyday lives. You read in the business section the economy is all good. It isn't. People are uncertain. And when you have two or three part-time jobs and one of them's under threat or you're being cut back in all of them, you're worried and nervous. … I'm not going to get into explaining polls. The other thing that poll said was if I was running I'd be winning. So how do you explain that by this "Torontonians are angry?" It doesn't fit. It's a lot more complicated than that.
There is economic uncertainty and it's affecting this whole province. That's why we've done things like making sure our subways, streetcars and buses are manufactured in Ontario, in manufacturing facilities where the workers are properly paid and have decent jobs. Because that's the way we contribute to the economy locally. And in Ontario, that's something we can do with our public funds. And I think people are looking for more of that kind of leadership.
If City Hall isn't broken, why do people think it is?
I don't accept your premise or agree with it at all. … I'll tell you what I'm hearing from people. First of all, they're saying quite complimentary things, like, "Please run again." But they're also shaking their heads at what they're hearing from the mayoral candidates. It's not the city they see. … Are there occasional frustrations with City Hall? Sure. That's fair enough.… And when we're in the midst of this huge infrastructure revival where we're trying to, in a decade, replace what should have been dug in 50 years, half the city's dug up. Occasionally those projects are going to have challenges. Fair enough. And I don't have a problem with that. But I disagree fundamentally with the premise that Torontonians are angry. It's just not true. And there wouldn't be a poll that said I would win if I ran if that were true. It's just not possible. So I think, with due respect to the media, that the story's a lot deeper than that. And people need to knock on doors in neighbourhoods like we do as elected officials and get in touch with people.
If you had to change one thing, what would it be?
If I had to change one thing? I really don't look back that way. Because I did my level best to be true to who I told Torontonians I was, to who I am. I don't think anybody, no matter how critical they are of my policies, would say, "We didn't get the David Miller we voted for." Look at what I ran on in 2006: I've kept those commitments to, literally, in some cases, to semicolons. Would I wish some things had gone differently? Sure. But every decision I approached based on the principles I believed in, my commitments to the people of Toronto.
What do you wish had gone differently?
Well, the - I'm not really… I mean… there are things that happen that you wish didn't. But I've done everything I possibly can to make things go the way they should. And frankly I'm quite pleased with what we've been able to accomplish. Just look at the record: Whether it's environmental issues, whether it's investment in priority neighbourhoods, rejuvenation of Toronto community housing, Transit City - any of these things are extremely positive and aggressive. I sort of forced the institution to sprint, and that's hard, for big government to sprint all the time. But when I got elected - let's not forget this was an institution that was severely tarnished by a corruption scandal, and we're now the leading institution in the world in terms of transparency, with open data and an accountability offices. No other municipality has an integrity commission. I'm proud of that. Those are significant and important accomplishments.
Do you think you'll be remembered for the garbage strike?
That's part of what I'll be remembered about, sure. … It's unfortunate the unions chose to go on strike. It was extremely unwise of them, at a time when people were feeling they were lucky to hang on to their jobs. We were being fair and reasonable and they eventually came around to our position.
A lot of people point to that as a time people turned against you as mayor.
People were frustrated. City staff did a very good job. From my perspective it wasn't a garbage strike, it was a strike against children and daycare and all the other city services. I thought the unions made a very significant error, and they eventually conceded to our position. And as a result, we saved $194-million. It's unfortunate the unions chose that strategy, but that's their choice.
How would you like to be remembered?
Sorry to duck, but I really don't think that way. I'm comfortable with who I am and I'm very proud of what we accomplished.
If a more right-wing mayor is elected, do you think that's a reaction to your more aggressive policies?
I think whoever gets elected, gets elected based on what people think of them and what they stand for. I'll leave that to political scientists 35 years from now. But everybody, for example, is promising people transit. … Is that a reaction to my mayoralty? Yes. Everyone's promising to do what I was doing.
I want to stay involved in environmental issues, particularly around creating jobs. I'm interested in doing it with an international perspective, partially in the private sector and partly through the non-profit sector. But we'll see. I'll make an announcement when I'm ready.
This interview has been edited and condensed.