Toronto’s sad mayoral choices: three timid leftists, no Giuliani

Lawrence Solomon
National Post
November 5, 2003

Three credible candidates are vying for the left-of-centre vote in Toronto’s mayoralty contest. No credible right-of-centre candidate is campaigning to lead a municipal government more populous than the combined populations of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, or all four Atlantic provinces.

The candidate of the hard left is David Miller, an NDP member who unabashedly won the support of the city’s unions by promising to never contract out municipal services. To meet the city’s budget shortfall – by some estimates, as much as $320-million next year – Miller vows to beg the federal and provincial governments for increased transfers.

Trailing him in the polls is John Tory, a candidate of the mushy left and a political insider close to Mel Lastman, the clownish, outgoing mayor. In contempt of both the development industry’s property rights and the city bureaucracy’s commendable pro-population-growth plans, Tory vows to arbitrarily outlaw high-rise projects throughout most of Toronto, even along underused subway lines. To meet the city’s budget shortfall – which his anti-development pandering to local opposition groups would exacerbate – Tory, too, vows to beg the federal and provincial governments for increased transfers.

The third contender, fast-fading former mayor Barbara Hall, made the mistake of resting on her laurels early in the race, when many believed her large lead to be insurmountable. The last decent mayor that Toronto has had, the leftist Hall edged toward the centre in her bid to regain the mayoralty: She promises to limit tax increases to less than inflation and possibly maybe some day perhaps consider contracting out some services. But Hall, a bloodless, cautious candidate, lacks conviction in promising to hold the line on taxes and, as importantly, she lacks a bold policy that can define her direction. She, too, vows to beg the federal and provincial governments for increased transfers.

With a crowded left-of-centre field, a respectable candidate offering a conventional bread-and-butter platform – better municipal services at lower cost – would have had an easy time of it. But Torontonians have no option of choosing a respectable centrist, let alone a dynamic mayor of the right such as Rudy Giuliani, who made New York America’s safest big city while cutting taxes, curtailing the power of the unions, promoting business and growing the economy.

Neither do Torontonians have the option of choosing a dynamic mayor of the left, such as London’s Ken Livingstone – “Red Ken,” as he was once reviled by conservatives. Livingstone boldly ran for office three years ago on a pledge to toll all vehicles entering or leaving London’s downtown core. The toll system works so brilliantly – road congestion has disappeared, bus use has soared, public coffers have filled – that Londoners, businesses included, overwhelmingly embrace the tolls. Toll roads, in fact, have become the world’s edgiest urban issue: Some 100 cities around the world are now studying the London success story, and many of their leaders have announced their intention to go down the same road.

Toronto will not soon be among them. When Miller off-handedly revealed that he would consider road tolling, his leftish rivals savaged him, but cynically, for they both knew that, but for their own timidity, they, too would champion tolls. Although Miller’s standing in the polls then rose, and although Miller knew that tolls are political and economic successes, he timidly recanted.

Next Monday, Torontonians will elect a timid leftist. The two timid leftists who will be defeated will kick themselves for failing to emulate Livingstone, whose principled and courageous stand was so justly rewarded. The timid centrists and rightists who never ran, but would have been rewarded if they had, will wonder what might have been.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Toronto-based Urban Renaissance Institute, a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation E-mail:

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