Gun violence received a lot of attention, especially after the 2005 Boxing Day shooting at Yonge and Dundas, one of Canada’s busiest intersections. Miller’s efforts to reduce crime centre on his Community Safety Plan, which helps disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Among Miller's environmental initiatives is the Mayor’s Tower Renewal, which retrofits old apartment buildings to make them more efficient. He also traveled to Copenhagen with mayors from the C40 group of cities for the recent climate conference, where they announced a new Electric Vehicle Initiative. The plan encourages the use of electric vehicles in cities through infrastructure development and private industry partnerships.
The TTC is on most commuters’ minds because they now pay a $3 adult fare. In response to complaints about price hikes, Miller blamed the provincial government's lack of support.
Miller refused to tell the newspaper if he would endorse someone for mayor, but he indirectly suggested that none of the potential candidates have shown that they are right for the job. We will find out October 25, 2010, who has what it takes to win the election.
the newspaper: Let's start with your legacy. In 2003, you campaigned with a broom, saying you were going to clean up the city. Do you feel that you’ve accomplished that goal?
David Miller: Yes.
tn: How did you clean up the city?
DM: I’ve faced a government that was tarred by corruption scandals, had a structural deficit, and was not open and transparent. It was government that was based more on whom you know rather than what you know. People who are doing business with the city shouldn’t be coming in the back door, but should come in the front door like everyone else. We’ve turned it around completely. [Former city councillors] Anne Johnston, Bas Balkissoon, and I have been instrumental in creating the public inquiry investigating the previous government. We’ve implemented all the recommendations. We’ve got the first integrity commissioner in any municipal government in Canada, and the second municipal ombudsman. We have the first lobbyist register of any municipal government in Canada. All those accountability offices make a very big difference. I think there’s been a complete turnaround. That campaign wasn’t only about cleaning up the government, it was also about cleaning up the city in the sense of restoring basic public services that have been cut because of my predecessor’s tax freeze pledge. We restored all of those and much more.
tn: What has been your greatest accomplishment as mayor?
DM: I’ve still got a year left, so…
tn: Up to this point?
DM: I’ll let others comment on that. History will judge. But I’m very proud of the work we’ve done on community safety, in priority neighbourhoods. Crime has been down every single year since Bill Blair came in as police chief. We’ve worked very closely with the police on strategies, particularly those that involve giving young people a hands up in neighbourhoods where they struggle because there’s a lack of opportunity. I’m proud of the work on Transit City, proud that Toronto is considered one of the leading environmental cities in the world, and our very significant work on fighting climate change. I'm proud of projects like Mayor’s Tower Renewal and that we’ve actually invested in public services. That’s the role of government from my perspective.
tn: What about your biggest shortcoming?
DM: I’ll let someone else answer that question.
tn: What is the most important quality for a mayor to have?
DM: I think a mayor has to know before he or she becomes mayor what it is they want to do, and have a very clear vision about the needs of the city they’re going to represent. You have to live and breathe the city. You have to know it inside and out, every neighbourhood, not just some. I’ve made a real point of knowing the entire city, not just the West End, where I’m from, or downtown. You have to have the ability to implement your vision.
tn: Do you think any of the potential candidates for mayor have those qualities?
DM: Oh, that’s not something I’m going to comment on. I can say one thing, though: They’re all going to have to answer the question why they’re running. All of them have said they want to be the mayor, none of them has said why. People are going to demand why; you can’t just run against something, you have to run for something.
tn: Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most important issues facing Toronto in the next 10 to 20 years?
DM: Making sure that we build the public transit system we started is essential. We should have built that 30 years ago. Public transit is about transportation, the environment, and how you build a city. Transit City, because it’s light rail, supports the goals of our official plan to intensify Toronto. That matters an enormous amount. It creates huge private sector wealth. More importantly, it creates a livable city. It’s also about social justice, because if you have rapid transit in every neighbourhood, everybody can be part of the city. That is essential. Toronto needs to keep growing. We’ve put a number of strategies in place to ensure that Toronto grows economically. We used to take for granted that we’re Canada’s business centre. You can’t take that for granted in the world anymore. This is a huge challenge for the city, we’re starting to see pockets of poverty. Canada is a country of a big middle, not extremes of wealth and poverty.
tn: Concerning violence in Toronto, why are crime prevention initiatives so important to your Community Safety Plan? What about actual crime fighting, where does that fit in?
DM: The police are an arm’s length from us. We fund them, and I was on the police board for several years. Crime prevention initiatives are within our direct control. We have a two part strategy by trying to balance enforcement with prevention. I want to be clear about this: The largest single increase in the police budget in the history of this city has come since I’ve been mayor. We’ve got 450 more officers on the street than when I was first mayor. We’ve done that quite consciously in partnership with the police because officers on the street are about enforcement issues, but also about prevention. It’s very important to have a visible police presence. I’ve focused the city’s resources on investing in young people in neighbourhoods where there’s a high correlation between poverty and a lack of public services. That’s for a very simple reason: The drug trade tends to take root in places where people don’t have economic hope. If you don’t have public services or economic opportunity, a tiny fraction of young people will turn to the drug trade, and that creates massive problems.
tn: Is there anything else you think should be done, after your term as mayor, to address crime in Toronto?
DM: TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) needs to be continued. I think the investments in the poor neighbourhoods need to be significantly increased. One thing that we started to do – but the recession hurt – is bring private sector jobs to these neighbourhoods through a program called PAYE (Partnership for Advanced Youth Employment). That effort needs to be redoubled. You need the private institutions to be really connected to the lives of young people in neighbourhoods that are excluded from the mainstream.
tn: You just came back from Copenhagen. Why is the environment so important to you?
DM: It’s important because the major challenge of our time is the fight against climate change. We all have an obligation to fight it. I have the privilege to be mayor of a city that has the ability to take significant steps, and we have. Toronto is one of the world leaders in fighting climate change.
tn: How do you think the outcome of the Copenhagen conference will impact Toronto?
DM: A stronger agreement would have helped more. If there was a binding international agreement, there would have to be support for the effort that cities are doing. For example, we have a program called Mayor’s Tower Renewal. It’s about doing energy retrofits on apartment buildings from the 1960s. It pays for itself in six to 10 years by reduced heating and cooling costs. There could be a federal role in helping us do this. That would help rejuvenate neighbourhoods, create employment, and do the right thing for the environment all at once. If there was a stronger agreement from Copenhagen, the federal government would be looking for these kinds of opportunities. It was the least they could have done from my perspective.
tn: You agreed to an Electric Vehicle Network initiative with other mayors from the C40 group. Why did only 14 of the 40 member cities sign up for it?
DM: Those were the cities that were ready. If you look at those 14 cities, you’ve got a population that’s probably close to equal to the USA. That’s very significant, so I wouldn’t look at it as "only 14."
tn: Would you have preferred to make a more robust agreement?
DM: No, that wasn’t the point of Copenhagen for us. The C40 has been making significant steps all along. The announcement that President Clinton made with us in New York a couple of years ago, about building retrofits, was the single biggest step anybody had ever taken to fight climate change. That’s a good agreement, the electric vehicles, but electric vehicles are a small piece of what needs to be done. Our purpose in Copenhagen was to demonstrate to the national governments that what’s actually happening is real, it’s creating jobs, it’s good for the economy, good for the environment, and fighting climate change, in order to put pressure on them to reach an agreement. We made an announcement merely because it was convenient to do it there.
tn: We’re trying to encourage people to use more public transportation to help our environment. How do you justify the recent TTC fare hike?
DM: Well, first of all, we froze fares last year, unlike every other transit system in the GTA. Secondly, the challenge for public transit funding in Ontario is that the province has completely abandoned operating subsidies. It used to subsidise half of the operating subsidy for the TTC. At the time, the TTC was actually subsidised more than it is now. That was true under Conservative governments, Liberal governments, and NDP governments. Mike Harris’s conservative government ended that. That’s responsible for the fare hikes, because with fewer subsidies, the riders have to pay more. In a way, this year has been a success. We’ve put far more bus service on the TTC.
tn: Finally, how do you want to be remembered after you leave office?
DM: I’ll let others be the judge of that, but I’m passionate about Toronto and I've done my best to do the right thing. I’m actually very proud of this council, notwithstanding the fact that there are a few members of one political party who choose to vote against everything. This council has made huge strides to move Toronto forward. I can’t choose the way I’ll be remembered, I’ll let others do that.
tn: Thanks for talking to the newspaper.
DM: It’s a pleasure to talk to the newspaper.