TORONTO’S WILLY WONKA

TORONTO’S WILLY WONKA

David Miller wants to rescue Toronto. Can he find an Oompa Loompa?

PAUL WELLS March 15 2004
TORONTO’S WILLY WONKA

TORONTO’S WILLY WONKA

David Miller wants to rescue Toronto. Can he find an Oompa Loompa?

PAUL WELLS March 15 2004

TORONTO’S WILLY WONKA

The Back Page

David Miller wants to rescue Toronto. Can he find an Oompa Loompa?

PAUL WELLS

I CAME LOOKING for David Miller, the new mayor of Toronto, but it’s hard to find anything in Toronto’s City Hall. All those curves and odd angles make for a workplace full of ramps that lead nowhere, spiral staircases, walls that intersect in strange places.

I could think of only one building like it. It exists only on celluloid. I asked Miller’s communications director, Andrea Addario, whether she’s seen the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory lately.

Her jaw hit the floor. “Why are you asking that?” It turned out that a couple of weeks

ago one of the Toronto councillors was throwing a bit of a tantrum in the council chambers. Addario told a colleague the councillor was acting like Veruca Salt, the worst brat to visit Wonka’s magic factory: “Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa now!”

At the end of Willy Wonka, a curly-haired blond boy inherits the magical factory from the reclusive nutcase who’s been running it. The same thing happened to Miller: last year the curly-blond Toronto councillor won the mayoral election and replaced Mel Lastman.

The two never really got along. Lastman was a bug-eyed populist. Miller is cool, lowkey. He can talk your ear off about zoning codes. Call him Policy Wonka. His golden ticket arrived in May 2002 when Lastman shouted at him during a council meeting: “You will never be mayor because you say dumb and stupid things!”

Many Torontonians took this as a perverse endorsement. “It basically marked the beginning of my campaign,” Miller said.

His campaign emblem was a broom, which had multiple meanings: sweep out corruption; clean up a city looking tattered at the edges; persuade higher levels of government to give Toronto a “new deal” worth billions in increased funding, a challenge that could be accomplished only through witchcraft. OK, I made that last part up. The broom didn’t actually have much to do with the new deal. Still, Miller is on the phone to governments in Queen’s Park and Ottawa all the time.

If government is about money, power and responsibility, Miller believes the City of Toronto has too little of the first two and too much of the third. He is tired of begging cap in hand for the cash or the authorization to do what Torontonians demand from city hall.

While I was in Toronto, three separate drive-by shootings, two of them fatal, encouraged the widespread impression that crime is growing out of control. A ceiling panel fell onto a subway track, starting a fire and making some Torontonians wonder yet again whether their city is simply falling apart.

Toronto council will do what it can, Miller says, but other levels of government need to step up too. “Post-amalgamation Toronto is Canada’s sixth-largest government,” he told me. “If you look at what we do—incomesupport programs, emergency services— we’re really like a province.”

Except not really. Toronto has precisely the powers delegated to it by the Ontario government and no more. Each time a novel situation arises, the city has to ask the Ontario government for new legislation. This makes it tricky to handle, for instance, coyotes.

True story. A few years ago a coyote, probably from the Humber River valley, followed a child through a schoolyard. “The parents were somewhat upset,” Miller said. But under existing laws all Toronto could do was kill the coyote or change its behaviour. Simply moving the beast would require a new provincial law.

It turned out a woman who lived near the school was feeding coyotes chicken and rice. She really should stop. “Turns out we were not allowed to charge her with feeding wildlife unless it was on a public property,” Miller said. “I mean, that’s crazy. Every time you find a new problem that there’s a new solution to, you can’t have to go to the province for legislation.”

Fortunately, Miller isn’t the only head of government with a personal interest in keeping Toronto voters happy. Nineteen members of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal caucus come from Toronto ridings. And Paul Martin? If there is a single one of his priorities that’s actually moving forward quickly, it’s the cities agenda.

No wonder. Jack Layton, the NDP leader, will run for Parliament in a Toronto riding. Layton is a former colleague of Miller’s on Toronto council—and former president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Miller’s political roots are in the NDP. One of his opponents spent last fall’s campaign calling him “NDP David Miller.” Miller won anyway. The message from the spooked Toronto Liberal caucus to Martin could not be clearer: don’t make this guy mad. All things considered, it’s a pretty good time to have the keys to the magic factory. HI

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