Illustration by Roxanne Ignatius/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
This was not David Miller’s most impressive year, and it was not the most important in his tenure. But it was his last, and so a good time to reflect on how his mayoralty has shaped Toronto—which is to say, very much for the good.
Many of Miller’s so-called legacy projects—the initiatives and plans into which he poured the greatest amount of energy and effort—are now in jeopardy. Transit City may not be built and Tower Renewal will perhaps be mothballed, progress on environmental goals quite possibly will stall and funding for cultural events seems very much in peril. Some of these things are the inevitable consequence of the political process, which allows an elected representative to undo the work of his or her predecessor as a matter of course. And some, regrettably, are evidence that Miller failed in at least one essential regard, by not seeing his projects through to the end. If he’d run for a third term or done a better (much better) job developing the next generation of progressive politicians in Toronto, from which a plausible—dare we dream inspiring?—successor might have emerged, much that we value might not now seem so precarious.
But whether these projects stand or fall, Miller has left a legacy, one for which we are immensely grateful. In the first place—and this has not been said often enough—he brought integrity to City Hall. Miller instituted reforms in procurement, introduced an integrity commissioner and a lobbyist registry, and ushered in a post-MFP era in which, no matter what Torontonians might have thought of his spending priorities, they were at least confident that there wasn’t any inquiry-worthy dirty dealing afoot. It seems somewhat hazy now, lost in the mists of dimming memories, but that in itself is a testament to how far we’ve come: whether councillors should get taxpayer-supplied tuna sandwiches at their meetings is the kind of thing you worry about when your house is already in pretty decent order.
And Miller did something else, too: he had ambitions for Toronto, and helped Toronto have ambitions for itself. We can be an environmental leader among cities, a model of intelligent growth, proof that immigration makes communities stronger: these were the ideas that captivated Miller’s imagination, and though we have far to go in realizing them, these are the ideas which have captured many of our imaginations also. Miller did not invent these aspirations, but he did champion them when few of our municipal politicians were, and in the process he normalized a certain kind of conversation that we as a city just weren’t having much before.
That conversation, that sense of ourselves as a city with the potential to do better than just get by, is both invaluable and hard to come by, and for all his many faults we thank Miller for nurturing it.